Operating your business in the current COVID world with the relaxing of COVID restrictions across the country requires considering what your future workplace will look like. According to a survey conducted by Forrester Research, while only 10% of companies offered remote work options prior to the pandemic, going forward more than 70% plan to offer fully remote or hybrid work arrangements.
An equally important factor in the structuring of the workplace will be how employees want to work. According to a FlexJobs survey, 96% of employees would like some form of remote work arrangement. The primary reasons for their desire to remain remote are their continued concern about COVID-19 safety as well as their concern with having less flexibility and less work-life balance. Secondary reasons employees want to keep a remote work arrangement are due to the cost savings and their not having to commute. In fact, remaining remote is so important that 27% of surveyed employees are willing to take a pay cut to continue their arrangement and 58% are saying they would look for another job if they cannot continue with some sort of remote work arrangement.
What does this mean? It means that, while you may be uncertain about the need to offer some remote work arrangement, not offering something may result in valuable employees leaving you in a job market which is very employee-friendly. And who are the companies finding candidates to accept their positions? The ones who are offering remote work.
While weighing options for your workplace, consider some of these thoughts:
COVID is not gone yet. With a large unvaccinated population and the once-again increasing percentage of COVID cases due to the Delta variant, no one should act like everything is “back to normal.” As long as there is a chance someone can contract COVID-19, employers must take actions to prioritize the health and safety of their employees. This may mean offering reasonable accommodation to those who are at high-risk or who legitimately cannot get the COVID vaccine. If an employee is still staying isolated in fear of contracting COVID, then offering a remote work arrangement may be necessary. But if they are eating in restaurants, going to the movies or sporting events, and traveling on vacation, you have more of an argument to require some in-office work.
Changes to policies and work arrangements can be temporary or become regular practice. As with any policy or practice (except employment-at-will), employers should always reserve the right to modify or rescind an agreed-to arrangement based on company needs. This allows employers to try a new arrangement while not being committed to it if circumstances such as poor performance, lower COVID rates, need for more in-office man power, or financial impacts change in the future.
Most employees do not expect a fully-remote schedule but would prefer a hybrid arrangement to always working in-office. By having some days each week that they do not need to commute or face the disruptions in the office, employees can balance their face-to-face needs while having time at home to concentrate on their productivity.
If you cannot have a fully-remote workforce, look into hybrid options. This could be having employees stagger their workweek with certain days in the office with the rest at home. Most companies have certain positions that cannot work remotely but that does not mean you should not try to offer a partially-remote option for those positions that can.
Avoid falling into the “presenteeism” trap of valuing the work of employees in the office more than the work of those who are remote. Instead, create realistic performance expectations for every employee regardless of where they work and hold each employee accountable. Someone being in the office does not mean they are working harder or more effectively than someone who is remote. You can learn more about presenteeism in our video found here.
Focus on availability for remote employees as you would attendance for in-office employees. Require remote employees to be available during certain days and times so they can be reached by clients and co-workers. But also allow some freedom when possible as long as their work is being done. If they are not available and/or are not producing, talk to them about their failure to meet expectations and then offer options such as increasing their in-office time or reassessing how their tasks are done.
Create effective communication methods for all employees. Employees should be connected with their managers and co-workers so create requirements for scheduled and impromptu communication using phone and video calls, not just email. Most remote employees do not need to talk to their manager more than a couple of times a week but, since each employee is incentivized differently, you may need to create different plans to interact with each one.
Establish policies to define expectations and requirements. Your policies should cover the issue, use, and return of company computers and laptops, the protection of company and client information, network security, expense reimbursement, time-tracking for non-exempt employees, and ergonomic work areas to reduce Workers’ Comp claims.
If you are hesitant, consider asking those who move to remote work to offer a concession. Employees who value remote work may be willing to take a reduction in pay, benefits, or perks. While not effective in a fully remote workplace, it may help balance morale in a company where some employees must work in the office.
Set different in-office policies for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. Follow the guidelines of the CDC, OSHA, and most states by allowing vaccinated employees to forego masks and social distancing while still requiring it of the unvaccinated. Require employees to prove they are vaccinated or else require them to follow the policies for the unvaccinated. Please note: This is not requiring anyone to get vaccinated or submit proof of vaccination but rather offering a mask-less option for those who can prove they are vaccinated.
Everyone had to be flexible when everything shut down. The best approach going forward is to remain flexible since COVID-19 is still impacting employees in various ways, some of which are unexpected and cannot be planned for. Understand if a family need arises which requires more working from home as that accommodation is probably better than having to find a new employee.
If you have any questions as you structure or restructure your workplace, reach out to us at Affinity HR Group. Visit our website to learn more about our services or connect with us at contact@AffinityHRGroup.com or 877-660-6400.
By Paige McAllister, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Vice President for Compliance – Affinity HR Group, Inc.