It’s been a little over a year since a large number of people began working from home. A lot has changed in that time. Our knowledge of COVID-19 and the development of a vaccine provide hope for the near future. Many companies are looking to these changes as a sign that things can return to the way they were before the pandemic. However, the way we work has changed. Many would argue that change is for the better. Here are some considerations a company should weigh before a full scale return to office after COVID.
As more and more companies look to the future of their office space, it’s looking less like the office space of 2019 and before. The new approach is a hybrid of in-office and remote workdays. Employees will work with their departments to arrange which days they will be in the office and which days they will be away. This approach can also benefit offices looking to enact safety measures like spacing desks at appropriate distances. It will empower employees feeling under the weather with a way to continue contributing, without affecting the health of their coworkers.
Working from home while feeling under the weather is one thing. Many employees feel it also improves their day to day. According to a recent Gartner study, 52% of respondents expressed their day to day had improved for the better working remotely during the pandemic. What’s more, 55% of workers shared that the increased flexibility improved their performance. Sure, working from home every day for weeks on end can have the effect of making the days blur together. That’s the beauty of the hybrid program. It allows employees to continue a benefit they’ve come to treasure a lot in the past several months.
Employees want to be able to work from home some days and in the office on others. Just look at these study results. When working from home became routine, it meant employees could do other things. Stuck on an obstacle at work? Spend some time doing laundry, or cleaning up. With that time to do personal and family chores, employees could return to the problem with a fresh perspective. It also means they could set the hours that work best with their schedule. If they needed to take time out of their day to drop off kids or pick them up, maybe they’d add a half hour or so on the work computer after dinner. Things weren’t stuck in the rigid 9 to 5.
Employers looking to immediately return to in-office work permanently may find their employees less willing. Some may even find opportunities elsewhere. According to Gartner’s study, 54% of respondents agreed that location flexibility would impact whether they stayed at their current organization. Clearly, flexibility is a priority for many employees. But it doesn’t stop with those already working for a company. Looking to fill those positions may prove difficult as candidates increasingly look for remote options. If difficulty persists in the region where a company is located, they may be forced to widen their search in the hopes someone will be willing to move. As the flexible approach to where we work proliferates, employers that fail to embrace it will have a more limited pool of talent available to them.
Keeping a company culture while entirely remote is challenging. A company is its people, and when you can only gather on Zoom calls, it’s hard to connect with any one person, let alone feel a part of something. But the answer to this challenge isn’t returning everyone to the office. Lining up after-hours celebrations might not be met with stellar attendance.
As people adjust to returning to the office, they’ll be sorting out the changes to their schedule. This is another advantage of the hybrid option. Employees might not have the same schedule they’ve grown accustomed to over the past year. But, with a measure of flexibility, they’ll be able to figure things out a little more easily.
Your company is the united force of its employees. Learn what they want. Reach out to them, set up town halls and send surveys. If, collectively, they never want to work another day from their home, then disregard this post. But if they want to work from home at least a few days a week, work with managers and department heads to develop a plan for a hybrid program that works for the company.