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With over 50% of the U.S. population now vaccinated (specifically half of all people ages 12 and over in 26 states have had at least one shot) and all states now officially fully re-opened for business, the U.S. economy has started the long, slow process of recovery. As companies reopen physical locations, employees are being asked to return to work. But what that will look like going forward is likely to differ from how it looked before March 2020. No one doubts that there will be a New Normal. That’s because although it took time and money for businesses to shift all of their employees to remote work, shifting them back may be even more costly, difficult and – in some cases — impossible. The reason: many of those employees don’t want to shift back.
Most U.S. employees have embraced “work-from-home” or WFH. They don’t want to return to the hassles of ‘going to work’. Work, yes. Going to, no. They don’t want to go back to workplace attire. Uncomfortable. Expensive. Dry cleaning. They don’t want to hassle with the troubles associated with commuting to and from work. Time waste. Traffic. Parking. Gasoline. Car repairs. Car accidents. Traffic tickets. They don’t want to resume paying for childcare and aftercare for their kids. It’s not surprising that going to work is far more taxing, demanding and expensive for employees than working from home. And WFH affords much more flexibility.
So leadership at companies all across the U.S. now have to answer this question: Will they allow employees to continue to WFH if they want? If so, what will that look like? For many companies, the answer is a hesitant yes. A survey by PriceWaterhouseCooper in June 2021 (just weeks ago) found that “83% of employers say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company.” It appears that business leaders are starting to see that WFH can be a win-win… for employees and employers alike. If that’s true, then what’s the problem?
Employee engagement is becoming a big challenge. If employee connection was challenging before the pandemic, it’s even worse now. While employee engagement initially rose during the pandemic due to newfound flexibility and perhaps even fear of job loss, it went back to pre-Covid levels as the pandemic wore on. Those employees who were highly engaged a year ago are now disconnecting. And, although organizations have had time to listen and respond to employee needs, many companies just don’t know how to do that effectively.
For one thing, there is no consensus on how to keep doing WFH…. how to structure work-from-home time vs. work-in-the-office time. Surveys show that about 55% of employees want to work remotely at least three days a week while 68% of executives think a typical employee should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain a distinct company culture. The result is that employers are taking very different approaches for how to handle this dilemma. Here are a few.
Remote First Approach
Some companies are adopting a Remote First policy where the processes required to work remotely lead the company’s operations, with in-office processes coming second. Currently, major employers such as Nationwide, Coinbase, Shopify, Box, Upwork, Quora, Fujitsu, Basecamp, Octa, Pinterest, Brex, Dropbox, LogMeIn, Drift, Cimpress, Aquent, InstaCart, and Snowflake are going Remote First. They aren’t giving up their workspaces completely but are opting for a work schedule where remote work is the preference with in-office processes used only as needed. It is the closest thing to a fully-remote workplace possible without going fully remote.
Remote First, however, is not the only approach to a more flexible workplace policy. There are other scenarios. There is an “Optional” approach, where companies allow employees to opt to work from home or the office. It is the employee’s choice. The schedule is totally flexible for the employee to decide when to work in the office and when to work from home. In those companies, it will be interesting to see if employees who spend more time in the office eventually get better raises and bonuses, are more connected to their boss, and are more likely to be promoted. Companies like Square, Slack, Siemens, Zillow, Atlassian, Hubspot, Gett, Deutsche Bank, Indeed, Microsoft, Reddit, SalesForce, SoFi, AmGen, have gone to either a fully-Optional or partially-Optional work schedule. It may be an approach that ultimately evolves either toward Remote First or Partial over time, based on implementation and results.
That bring us to the “Partial” approach, where WFH is offered only to some employees, based on role and situation. This could definitely could be open to litigation if employees feel there is favoritism, nepotism and cronyism involved in the decision-making process or if there is a double-standard for men vs. women or senior-level staff vs. junior-level. There are many companies adopting a partial approach, including Twitter, Facebook, Hitachi, REI Co-op, Schroeders, LinkLaters, JP Morgan Chase, US Express, RPG Enterprises, Verizon, Google, Coca Cola, Deloitte, Capital One, State Farm, Lincoln Financial, HSBC, as well as the US Army and Navy. This might be the approach companies take to keep from losing key employees and top talent. (More about that ahead.)
Then there is the Hybrid approach in which the company plans to have employees working from home part of the time and in the office part of the time. The company decides the schedule and it is implemented in the same way for all employees. For example, that could entail half of the staff working Monday, Wednesday and Friday one week while the rest of the staff works Tuesday and Thursday, and then the schedule flips the following week. This ensures that everyone works in the office 5 out of every 10 business days. There are some companies adopting this approach, but not as many. Spotify, BP, Ford, Capita, British Airway, Service Now, and Apple are some who have opted for a Hybrid approach.
Fully Remote Approach
Last but not least is the Fully Remote approach. With this approach, a company stops having physical space, whether it is office, retail, warehouse or some other type of commercial space. Major companies are unlikely to go this route any time soon, if at all, but small and mid-sized businesses might benefit from this approach. The larger the company, the more there is a need for space to handle collaboration, conferences, and other interactive processes, but smaller companies that offer products or services that are more static and require less collaboration and innovation may be able to get away with a full remote workforce. Companies that have embraced a Fully Remote approach includes Frontastic, Clevertech, Animalz, Shogun, Uscreen Bitovi, Followup Boss, Zapier, Toggl, Toptal and TaxJar.
The New Epidemic: Turnover
With such a dramatic shift in workplace culture – a shift the likes of which has not been seen since the advent of factories and department stores – it is no surprise to see disruption. There are many employees who may not agree with the workplace approach their employer has chosen. This disconnection is causing many workers to want to change jobs. The result is that the pandemic of 2020 is now being replaced with an entirely new workplace epidemic: the turnover outbreak of 2021.
In survey after survey, workers are making it clear that they are willing to change jobs if their employer won’t accommodate their desire to continue working from home. As a result, recruiters are inundated with jobseekers. With the threat of exceptionally high turnover looming this year, are organizations doing enough to make their employees feel engaged, connected, heard, valued, and recognized? The first step, of course, is choosing a workplace approach that finds a happy balance between the company’s and the employee’s needs, if possible.
Next week, we’ll look at other strategies to increase employee engagement and reduce turnover. Stay tuned.
Quote of the Week
“Take time to appreciate employees and they will reciprocate in a thousand ways.” Lee Lacocca
© 2021, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.