There’s a tug of war going on in corporate America. After months of reduced commuting, time with family, and casual dressing, most employees who have been working outside of the office don’t want to go back to the office every day of the week.
Most employers, however, are looking forward to a return to normal, which means almost all of their staff are back at their desks.
According to the MetLife U.S. Employee Benefit Trend Survey 2021 using multiple data sets, 90% of employers who have changed working arrangements say they expect to return to pre-pandemic working arrangements once they can. But 76% of the employees surveyed are interested in alternative work arrangements like remote work and more flexible schedules.
Probably for most workforces there will be a compromise. At this stage in the pandemic recovery, it’s clear that at least some version of a remote workforce will continue to exist among non-essential workers, with many employees preferring a hybrid situation. More than half (55%) of the employees surveyed said they’d like to be remote at least three days a week, according to the latest US Remote Work Survey from PwC, which surveyed 1,200 US office workers between November 24 and December 5, 2020. (Essential workers were excluded.)
How can employers best prepare for this new reality?
During the worst of the pandemic, you may have scrambled to find the technology solutions necessary to help keep your employees connected and productive. Reviewing those solutions and improving them to make sure they’re the most efficient and accessible for remote workers now that the worst of the emergency is behind us is the first line of defense.
Next, keep in mind, most workers understood their employers were doing the best they could during the pandemic to keep workers safe and keep business going. But now that the emergency feeling is fading, the hard work of managing at least a partial remote workforce is beginning.
The following five action items can help you set realistic expectations while still motivating and rewarding your workforce.
1. Don’t Dictate, Communicate
It can be easy to slip into one-way-only communications with remote workers, especially during an emergency. Various emails are often sent announcing policy, scheduling, or rule changes, seemingly without employee input. That can set the wrong tone among remote workers who may be feeling isolated and younger workers who don’t yet have a sense of the firm’s culture.
But when employees understand how and why a change is being made and when they feel they were part of the decision to change, they are often more likely to embrace it.
That’s why a two-way dialogue with remote workers is essential. Asking for input via spot surveys, open electronic dialogue, virtual town meetings, etc., helps remote workers feel more in control, more engaged, and more accepting when a change is made.
2. Increase Employee Recognition
Remote workers can feel that they’re out of sight, out of mind, especially when it comes to recognition and career development opportunities that were once solely office-based. By the same token, it can be hard for employers to identify and reward employee contributions in a remote setting because the opportunities for managers to acknowledge workers during a hallway chat or group meeting are now limited.
But recognition motivates employees and sets an example for teammates and other workers. Be sure you publicly acknowledge standout performance even if it means a group email or Slack note instead of or in addition to the weekly in-person staff meeting.
Recognizing talented employees often entails offering them professional development opportunities such as skills-building classes and management seminars. Many of these programs may have been put on hold during COVID. But a return to these opportunities needs to take remote workers into account. That may mean moving permanently to a virtual format and/or finding standout programs that work well in a virtual setting.
Encouraging professional development among remote workers may necessitate strong outreach programs. Many employees may be emerging from the pandemic feeling risk averse and hesitant to try something new. Providing a way for employees to express these feelings while still acknowledging workers’ accomplishments can help rebuild employee morale, even virtually.
3. Encourage Innovation
The pandemic has shown us the importance of innovative thinking and strategic problem-solving among all employees.
You’ll likely want to continue to encourage innovation among all workers. This is especially important for remote workers who may feel disconnected from both the problems and solutions facing the company as a whole.
Some ways to foster engagement: Release a public agenda of problems and challenges the firm is facing. Ask, via virtual town hall or open letter, for employees to submit ideas and send a followup email. Conduct smaller virtual brainstorming sessions to encourage teams to come up with solutions together. Encourage department heads and team managers to do the same with their staff regarding the specific challenges their areas are facing. Consider incorporating management training for remote working to help leaders navigate this new reality.
Perhaps most important, listen to the feedback and ideas carefully. When an employee-led solution is implemented, be sure to acknowledge that fact publicly to encourage more innovation.
4. Make Remote Possible
Even if your organization is aiming for all staffers to return to the office, the reality is some type of hybrid system may be in place for some time. That may mean rethinking daily and weekly routines, some of which you may have still followed during COVID. They may simply not work any longer for a hybrid remote/in-person staff.
The 9 a.m. team meeting, for instance, may have to morph to accommodate both in-person and remote workers. The solution may be as simple as making it an afternoon meeting. Or only meeting when an agenda item arises, instead of a set time every week.
Focusing on output rather than process can also help accommodate workers in a remote or hybrid situation. Managers who worry less about how employees are getting their work done each day and focus more on what they expect of each team member on an extended timeline may find it easier to increase productivity among remote and hybrid staffers who are still adapting to a more flexible schedule.
5. Help Relocated and Local Employees with Homebuying
Many workers are considering new home purchases as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the new remote work reality. Some may want to relocate to less crowded rural areas now that they’re able to telecommute. Others, returning to work after COVID, may want to move closer to the office to cut down on commute times.
Whatever the motivation, employers who offer Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) may see an increase in loyalty and productivity among workers who participate. EAH can take many forms, but the benefit most often includes:
• Homebuying education. Often conducted by a commissioned real estate or lending professional, this teaches employees about shopping for a home, mortgage qualification, taxes, insurance, and other basics.
• Mortgage and credit counseling. Employees meet one-on-one with a CFP or other certified professional to learn how to improve their credit scores, qualify for a mortgage, avoid foreclosure, and other important mortgage-ready lessons.
• Financial assistance. Many employers provide loans or grants to help employees with mortgage, closing, and/or moving costs.
• Group mortgage origination. This entails the employer negotiating with mortgage providers to offer better rates and lower costs for their employees.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced many companies to turn to remote work. But now we may be in a position to combine the best of both the worlds of in-office and at-home work. It’s important to do that in a way that takes into account the preferences of your workforce and to get their input and buy-in as you develop a plan that works for your company. For more information on how to more easily incorporate a remote workforce, visit SoFi at Work.
Photo credit: iStock/ake1150sb
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