Published: March 30, 2022 | Comments
This article first appeared in HDI, a partner publication.
Before the pandemic, some companies and many managers were under the impression that working from home would lead to lost productivity through slacking or outright disappearance. At the root of that belief was an underlying distrust of employees to be self-motivated to work.
Then came the pandemic. Like it or not, most companies had their hand forced to allow and even encourage their staff to work from home. And for many this was no planned exercise nor a contingency that they had fully prepared for – especially as virtually everyone across the country and the world was making the same shift. Shortages of equipment were rampant as the global workforce shifted to the home. Processes for distributing equipment needed to be developed and implemented on the fly.
And yet we somehow emerged from this disruption of our comfortable office life fairly successfully and fairly quickly. Within a couple of months most of the employed workforce was working from home with the equipment and resources required to support their role.
Sure, there were disruptions. I remember telling my team in our first WFH Staff Meeting, “We now work in the domain of kids and dogs. We’re the intruders in their world. You never have to apologize if either of them are being loud. Mute yourself if you feel the need, but we’re all experiencing the same thing together.”
Then came the settling in period, when the workforce began to optimize this whole WFH scenario. Contrary to the naysayers in those BC days, in many cases productivity increased – particularly among those truly engaged employees. There were certainly some Harry Houdinis who did the disappearing act, but for the most part it seemed that they were the folks who were already one foot out the office door before the offices closed for the pandemic. I’m not a big fan of the term “addition by subtraction,” but when it comes to actively disengaged employees, sometimes that old adage holds true.
Interestingly those who embraced the WFH world seemed to share some common traits. In my experience, they were focused, motivated, self-starters, independent, adept at task prioritization, and family-oriented.
Then as vaccines became available and were being administered more widely, the dialogue opened about Return to Office (RTO). Some companies – particularly those who resisted WFH in the BC era – were eager to get their staff back into the office. Even companies that offered hybrid work models in the pre-pandemic world considered recalling their onsite staff. Some even began the shift back to office – just in time for the Delta variant to shift most of its workforce back to WFH. Omicron has followed.
As we continue to emerge from this pandemic, it’s good to take a look at the benefits of WFH. They include:
There are fears – real or imagined – by employees of a breakthrough infection. From a business perspective, such an event could impair the business itself.
Employees in WFH can spend more time with family – especially children and elderly householders – and less time in the stress of commuting. For the business, happier employees translate to better customer experience.
By saving on childcare or elderly care costs, the employee has more disposable income and may be able to claim a tax credit for their home office. For business purposes, the more disposable income available in our economy will help with a faster recovery, and it may allow them to shrink the amount of square footage of office space needed.
By WFH the employee has greater flexibility to work when needed, as needed. The business can review workforce management scheduling more flexibly to accommodate intraday peaks and troughs, as split shifts may be more desirable for WFH staff.
Pandora’s Box has opened, and some employees simply have no desire to shut the lid and RTO, instead seeking out other employment that will afford them the benefit of continued WFH. Businesses can leverage WFH options as a recruitment incentive to lure the best resources available.
A WFH employee is not truly constrained to work from home; they can literally be anywhere with adequate connectivity to support the equipment they are using. This means that they could potentially get jobs from higher-paying markets like New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles while living in lower cost of living locations – or from a beach resort. For the business, it opens them up to a much larger pool of candidates – across the nation (or the world), rather than just in the local vicinity.
There certainly is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to WFH versus RTO. Some companies will eventually go back to the days of yore and mandate that their staff RTO. They’ll see some attrition as a result, but I’m sure it will be factored into that decision. Others will likely remain in the WFH mode for most of their enterprise staff. Some will vacillate – something we’ve already seen with some of the big technology companies – as this brave new world continues to evolve.
For my part, I advocate a hybrid approach that gives most employees options. And by options I I mean, “Do you want to primarily WFH or RTO?” Those who choose to WFH would be welcome to come onsite to work at shared (but not dedicated) workspaces when they want – obviously using some sort of workforce management tool to reserve a shared seat.
As we look forward to the post-pandemic world, it’s going to be critical for businesses to reexamine their stance on WFH. Most have been doing it – and doing it successfully – for well over a year now, so businesses should be able to trust them to continue to do so. Trying to get employees to RTO now may cost companies dearly in lost human capital. There are clear benefits to offering options.