Working an office job looks a lot different today than it did even 10 years ago, and that’s even without factoring in the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the work environment. Organizations are faced with new questions about how to boost employee morale and motivation. And there has been a steady shift toward an increased implementation of technology to drive productivity and attract employees; the last 12 months have only accelerated trends that were already well established.
One of those trends is remote work.
At Brokers International, we are looking at a permanent remote work policy. Prior to March 2020, we only had one remote worker, and expanding that into an actual program wasn’t really on the radar. But going forward, I expect we’ll have up to 75% of our workforce have the option to work remotely at least on a part-time basis. We’ll do it for several reasons.
- Our employees will ask for it. The coronavirus pandemic has forced a lot of things on society that have been extremely difficult to deal with. But for many people, the unexpected opportunity to work from home has been a real blessing, once the routine became established. Less time commuting, more time at home and with family — and even the ability to work from a vacation home or on the road. It’s going to be hard to completely put the genie back in this particular bottle.
- It’s becoming an expected employee benefit. Like it or not, the way that many white-collar companies were able to effectively pivot to remote work sent the message that failing to offer a work-from-home benefit is a management choice. The continued productivity many organizations have demonstrated while their office buildings sit empty makes it hard to argue otherwise. From a competitive standpoint, if you don’t offer remote work, you risk losing employees to an organization that provides that benefit.
- Our adopted technology isn’t going away. At Brokers, we use Microsoft Teams for chat and video conferencing, and we aren’t planning to stop using those tools. Rather, we are ramping them up even further. Integrating these technologies into our processes and workflow gives us enhanced communication across organizational boundaries.
- There are positive organizational financial implications. We’ve noticed that our employees’ paid time off balances are increasing. Fewer people are taking PTO days because they’re home already. Unless an employee is seriously ailing, we see more individuals willing to work through an illness, or at least only work a half day in order to have a slower pace. Because of that, we see some real impact from a financial standpoint — there’s less need to provide as many days off, or roll over as many unused PTO days, if employees don’t feel the need for that benefit as acutely anymore.
Addressing the Issues
As much sense as it makes for Brokers to evaluate a permanent remote work policy, there are potential issues that require careful consideration.
For salaried workers, the situation is less complicated than for hourly workers. How do you pay workers and keep track of their work? Do you rely on additional technology to monitor hourly employees and make sure they are sitting at their computer during business hours? And if so, do you put salaried employees through that same scrutiny? Conversely, how do you make sure people aren’t working when they aren’t supposed to be?
On that note, there is a problem with burnout. There’s no escape. If you’re working from home, that used to be your escape. But now, when the office is at your home, you’re always at the office, just a few steps away from your computer to check an email or make changes to a presentation. And the younger workforce is on all the time. I have younger employees who sometimes text me about work late at night; if I reply, that gives the impression that it’s OK to reach out at that time. But if that younger employee has children who are home from school or daycare, maybe the evening is the only time they can catch up on the last few hours of work. The boundaries get blurry very quickly, and there’s a lot of gray area to work through.
It’s rare to find an opportunity that aligns an organizational cost-savings initiative, recruitment and retention benefits, and employee morale enhancement. Yes, there is a potential for problems to arise, but you can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Some might ask, “How can you seriously consider maintaining this current situation in the long term?” My response: “How can you not?”