Q: The switch to remote work went more smoothly for my organization than we anticipated. The flexibility of working from home definitely has its benefits. Should we consider allowing our employees to continue working remotely part time once we reopen our offices? What are some of the pros and cons to consider?
A: Employees and companies are both struggling with the concept of returning to the office or continuing to work remotely. Many studies document the increase in productivity that employees have when they work from home, and a high percent of employees agree they would rather work more and commute less.
Companies have become very creative and much more flexible assessing which positions can effectively work remotely, and some have made significant accommodations to maximize employee productivity while working remotely during this pandemic. They have provided equipment from laptops to ergonomic chairs, as well as headsets, cameras, and monitor stands or docking stations for the employee’s remote office setup. Organizations are now paying for some things they wouldn’t have before such as cell phone bills, internet connection fees, and even the fee to increase the speed of the employee’s connection. Additionally, receptionists, typically the face of the company in the office, have been remarkably efficient at welcoming incoming calls and ensuring that forwarded calls find the right contact person.
All of these things are contributing to the fact that there won’t be a return to work as we know it, but there will be decisions made about what percentage of the population can continue to work remotely one or more days a week.
As employers become increasingly aware of many employees’ desire to work from home, they are becoming much more resourceful at finding ways to support them. Leaders are gathering this information through surveys, questionnaires, skip level meetings, and ongoing communication about what employee fears are, confidence in their level of productivity, and the challenges they would face returning to the office, including childcare, elder care, or self-care based on their own health.
Employees who want to work from home need to be exceptionally self-motivated, communicate well to their manager, and document the work they are doing in any shared calendars. One of the most obvious mistakes an employee can make is to leave their calendar empty, but it is done often enough to be a joke. Being able to communicate the kinds of projects employees are working on and the time that work takes is essential. Whether it’s a meeting or task is not the point; time spent on the issues, work, and topics are the primary efforts that needs to be documented. Not unlike a lawyer’s experience in documenting every six minutes for billing, employees need to recognize that looking at the projects they’re involved with is not necessarily a covering-your-rear activity, but a communication tool to let your manager know what’s working smoothly, what’s taking more time than anticipated, and whether or not there are obstacles that they can help the employee move forward with so they can be more productive.
Businesses and managers need to make this decision with input from their employees on their personal situations, and employees can contribute to these decisions by being a great (or not-so-great) employee when working remotely.