Last month marked the beginning of spring, and as the air started to warm and spring flowers began to bloom, the novel coronavirus was quickly spreading and life as we knew it began to change. While social distancing has certainly proven difficult for our personal lives, the effect it is having on the workforce is unprecedented. Businesses large and small are closing, millions are losing their jobs, and those who are fortunate enough to keep their jobs are under mandatory work from home policies until public guidelines state that it is safe to return to the office.
While a pre-coronavirus study found that only 3.6% of the workforce reported working from home for at least half the week, 99% of people said they would choose to work remotely at least part-time, for the rest of their careers, if they had the option. With 56% of employees reporting that at least some of their work could be done remotely, there seems to be a disconnect in the actual opportunity to work from home. But, as companies have recently been forced to adapt to working from home, the question is, how will the pandemic shape remote work policies moving forward? Will this new environment allow society to shift as a whole? Or will pre-pandemic standards be reinforced?
There Are Two Sides to Every Work From Home Story
You likely have your own opinion on work from home–you either love it, or you hate it–and it’s also likely that you’ve talked to at least one person with the opposite opinion. So, what gives?
Type of Work
Some jobs are more easily done at the office. For example, a Human Resources Manager’s work requires plenty of face-to-face interaction with employees, but a Software Developer who quietly writes code at a computer does not. In fact, being at home where it’s quiet may foster more productivity for the Software Developer. With that said, perhaps there are a few days a week that the HR Manager needs quiet time to file reports or work on strategy without office distractions. Working from home on these days may be the perfect option.
We’re talking introvert versus extrovert here. Some people thrive on energy from interacting with others at the office, and they love chatting with co-workers in the kitchen or stopping by someone’s desk to catch up on weekend plans. For others, these interactions are draining and best avoided. It may not seem like a big deal for an extrovert, but that energy drain may affect an introvert’s work, and being remote may be the better choice.
We can also take into consideration workforce habits, trends, and values across generations–say Baby Boomers versus Gen Xers versus Millennials versus the newest crew to enter the workforce, Generation Z. Times change, technology advances, and the way of life adjusts, as a result. For example, consider what your grandparents defined as success, and then think about what you define as success. Do they vary? Absolutely. Values, preferences, and social norms certainly differ across the generations, and understandably so. Millennials and Gen Zers, who likely earned a portion of their college degree through online courses, are all about flexibility and are comfortable and confident in using technology. In contrast, previous generations may value in-person interaction in a professional, structured office setting.
With that said, the fear of remote work is understandable from management’s point of view. You can’t truly monitor what someone is doing at home–whether they’re working on the project you assigned them or watching a movie–but productivity will remain the key performance indicator, just as it is when the employee is in the office. Workload and deadlines still apply regardless of the setting. If you have an employee that isn’t dedicated to their work at home, chances are, they aren’t dedicated at the office either, and this is a whole new issue to be addressed. Trustworthy and dedicated employees are the key to not only a successful work from home strategy but a successful organization as a whole. In the wise words of Ernest Hemingway, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
To Work From Home, Or Not To Work From Home?
When the quarantine ends and people head back to the office, feelings about working from home will undoubtedly change, and this may lead to amendments to the remote work policies for many organizations. Here are some things to consider:
How you work best is not how someone else works best.
When creating your policies, keep in mind that everyone works differently, and that may look different from how you like to work, but that’s okay. Some of your employees might not want to work from home, others may decide that they work better at home altogether, and still others might find that they want a nice balance between the two. Finding a happy medium is key to a motivated, productive office culture.
There is one caveat–make it the manager’s discretion.
After all, who knows an employee’s productivity and output better than their direct manager? If an employee decides to work from home multiple days a week, but their productivity drops, this may be a red flag. However, you will have other employees whose creativity and workload drastically improve due to having simple creature comforts around them as they churn through their projects and tasks. It’s about managing the person and finding the work rhythm that allows the organization and the employee to succeed.
Work trends, they are a-changin’.
One final consideration is that work trends are evolving. As more and more younger generations enter the workforce, remote work will become more commonplace, and in order to attract top talent, more flexible work options may be necessary. Work-life balance is a real contender in what younger generations view as essential, and the organization can benefit from these new norms by gaining greater employee loyalty, commitment, and motivation.
A more comfortable atmosphere, no stressful commute, more sleep, and an improved work-life balance are all are great reasons to work from home but, understandably, doubts remain. After the dust of the pandemic settles, it’s essential not to disregard all the positives that you learned during this time. With times of significant change, always comes great ingenuity, and we will likely see many business tweak processes and change to become more fluid as a result of the pandemic. Whatever you choose to do in your workplace, remember that for many professions, work is an activity, not a place. With the right people in the right positions, they can work virtually anywhere, at almost any time.
 “Latest Work-at-Home/Telecommuting/Mobile Work/Remote Work Statistics”. https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics. Accessed 2020 April 15.
 “2019 State of Remote Work”. https://buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2019. Accessed 2020 April 15.
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