Over the last year and a half of pandemic-dominated work and life, we’ve become familiar with the adaptations necessary for the health and safety of workers. Many of these new models have actually become popular with employees, for a variety of reasons ranging from better work/life balance to protecting their families.
While some companies planned to make these changes permanent, many others looked forward to a return to the old order. Announcements were made to the effect that by September of this year, they expected to have employees back in the workplace (and children back in the classroom).
Unfortunately, the current surge of the Delta variant has put U.S. new infections, deaths and hospital bed shortages back to where they were in January, before vaccines were even available. Employers must now plan for delays in their return-to-the-office schedules, or accelerate the transition to their new work models. In either case, the time for workforce innovation has come.
The above factors are reinforced by an extremely tight labor market and the consequent employee leverage to get what they want. Employers who don’t offer alternatives face the risk of a major talent drain. (One worldwide poll found that 54% of employees would consider quitting if refused flexibility in where and when they work; 75% of the same group said they were happy at their jobs, demonstrating that even satisfied employees are willing to walk over this issue.)
Following are some considerations for employers rethinking their work models.
Not everyone prefers working from home — either because there are too many distractions or they miss the face-to-face interactions of the team setting. However, they still need to manage children’s school, caring for family members, and other commitments such as class schedules.
For this group, the solution may be flexible scheduling, which we expect to reach far beyond the sectors where it has traditionally been the norm, such as the hospitality industry. Simply dictating a scheme, such as certain employees in the office Monday-Wednesday and others Wednesday-Friday, probably won’t work, as each individual has their own needs. A more satisfactory choice is an app which everyone can use to request, schedule and swap shifts.
It seems to be mostly the Millennial and younger generations of workers who appreciate flexible work. And studies show that they are even open to considering it a significant part of their compensation package along with salary. (Food for thought!)
It seems likely that those already working from home will be forced to continue, at least until the pandemic is under better control. And it’s worth noting the recent, highly publicized incidents of employee push-back when employers tried to reinstate pre-pandemic working practices (such as at Google and Apple).
A more flexible stance may be in order to prevent such damage to the company’s brand and ability to hire talent in the future. Practicing transparency and dialogue, rather than imposing decisions they didn’t participate in, will help keep employees loyal and committed to finding solutions.
The end result may well be that remote work is here to stay, for any position where that’s physically possible. Most employees feel they have proved that their productivity has been equal to, often even better than, their in-office performance — and that the reasons given them for going back don’t hold water. In addition, many have become digital nomads, now living far from their employer’s brick-and-mortar location.
This is the group most likely to just resign if they’re ordered back to the workplace, especially knowing that this labor market is full of other options. It’s also worth remembering that any future candidates for their job will probably have the same attitude.
These new modes of work require new technology to function successfully. And a wide range of apps are now on the market to meet that demand. Team communications include remote conferencing, workflow facilitation and file sharing. Leadership communications could online training and HR form processing. Flexible staffing will probably require an app such as the one Integrity developed for our own associates, FlexForce.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many employers made rushed decisions about what technology to install. If the changes are transitioning to permanent, it’s time to take a more thoughtful look at what’s really needed and what will best serve the interests of the company and its employees.
Creating new work modes that satisfy all sides won’t be easy. But doing so will bring significant rewards for both organizations and their employees.