As many states around the U.S. start reopening, companies must prepare their workforce for what’s next. And that is no easy feat. While some companies will try to resume business as usual, others will embrace a more permanent flexible, remote work policy. Case in point: Twitter just announced that all employees would have the option to work from home permanently even after this pandemic subsides.
With nearly half of workers (41%) admitting they’re afraid to go back to work because of the risk of exposure, it’s increasingly evident that COVID-19 will forever change our personal relationship to work. Remote work won’t just be a temporary patch, but rather will evolve into a more complex organization with a portion of the workforce remaining remote.
As we think about the future of work in a post-pandemic world, companies must look to new ways to keep their employees’ physical and emotional wellbeing intact, while simultaneously boosting productivity, collaboration and topline business results.
Working at home should be a right, not a privilege or an exception: As we think about what work will look like, one thing is certain: For many of us, we will no longer have to tie work to a physical office or point in time. COVID-19 has proven that technology can enable us to measure work based on productivity instead of a 40-hour workweek regimen. According to a recent Salesforce study, 86% of remote workers rate their current productivity as excellent or good, and more than 40% of workers would prefer to stay working in a remote capacity.
COVID-19 brought a new definition to “flexible work,” where we can accomplish responsibilities on our own terms and work collaboratively without having to depend on geographical restrictions. Geographic flexibility before COVID-19 was either not an option or came with a great deal of negotiation and compromise. But with collaborative, virtual technologies, people are proving to employers that they can work remotely without dropping the ball, and in fact many can perform more efficiently than before.
Further, remote work eliminates long commutes and removes unnecessary exposure to crowded trains, buses and streets. This gives people the chance to build lifestyles that are emotionally, relationally and physically healthier as they dedicate more time to their loved ones and personal wellbeing. And it’s a big cost saving. There’s no reason to pay for office space when employees can turn their home, the coffee shop or the local library into their office; a recent Gartner study found that 74% of CFOs intend to shift some employees to remote full time.
Empathy will be the most important work-from-home policy.
Look no further than recent employee memos from Twitter, Facebook or Nationwide to see the strong effort that senior leaders are taking to make this transition successful for their staff—whether that means a staggered transition back to work, or a more permanent work-from-home option.
While people want to get out of their homes and have some sense of normalcy, they still fear infection and the health and wellbeing of themselves and their loved ones. Leaders must give people the option to work where they feel most comfortable, whether in or out of the office. It will be all about balance: making employees feel safe and valued, while also ensuring your business is reaching productivity goals. That’s where strong, remote technology and communication comes in and can be a bridge between those workers who chose to come in and those who decide to stay home.
No matter where you are, culture is still king.
Loneliness and depression are major pain points for remote workers. As companies look to a more permanent remote work a mainstay, they need to ensure there isn’t a sudden drop-off in social interaction—and, in turn, productivity.
No matter what decision your company makes in the long-term, managers and team leaders must establish strong communication practices and protocols now, and implement the right technology that brings people together, rather than drives them apart. Showing your employees that you care goes a long way in lifting their moods. For example, start the beginning of each video conference by talking about non-work-related activities or create virtual equivalents of common workplace social activities like coffee breaks and happy hours.
Bold, forward-looking moves from companies like Twitter, Nationwide, Facebook and more are proving that a safe and secure workforce will depend on a lot more than hand sanitizer, face masks and socially distanced desks. A positive work environment will rely on empathizing with employees and allowing them to succeed in today’s new world.
Peter Jackson is CEO of Bluescape.