Before March 2020, Americans spent 5% of their working time at home. These figures increased to 60% by Spring 2020.
Most say that it takes 20 days to make or break a habit.
Imagine what an entire calendar year does?
The majority of the workforce has formed the “Working from Home" habit and they are not giving their employers a chance to break this one.
The pandemic certainly expedited the volume of individuals working remotely, but it has been a growing trend. Prior to March, 20% of the workforce said they worked from home before the outbreak. Technology allowed for employees to have office-comparable internet speeds at their homes. Popular communication channels like Slack and Microsoft Teams continued to grow as acceptable ways of instant communication with teams. Even the popular video conferencing application Zoom was 9-years into their existence when the pandemic first hit.
Over time, studies provided significant evidence that allowing your employees more flexibility created a more favorable work experience. Some companies were allowing employees to work from home, and not just employees in high ranking positions.
Yet working from home was not the norm. Even if it was physically possible to work from home, many companies avoided this topic and thought it was out of the realm of possibility.
The spread of the coronavirus forced companies big and small to improvise. If you could work from home, you did. Many corporations purchased computers and shipped to their employees’ homes. That spare room or corner in your bedroom soon became your home office. The workforce was working remotely.
Many individuals struggled to find balance. Management couldn’t stop by your desk to ask you a question or check on progress. Some companies did their best to maintain a schedule and create structure, but others left it entirely up to their employees.
After a while, most companies found their flow. Video conferencing team meetings became a norm. As strong companies do, they found a way to adapt and strive. Employees enjoyed added productivity time by eliminating their commute. Companies realized they could potentially save on real estate expenses.
But it’s not all positive.
Working parents struggled to find focus time without interruptions. The technically challenged found difficulties in working their new found applications and programs. Some simple tasks took longer and caused more frustrations.
As the pandemic calmed, many organizations tried to find the balancing act. Should their workforce come back to the office?
The first several months were likely a struggle. But as days 30-60 came around, most employees formed a routine. They knew exactly how many times they could hit snooze before they had to get on their morning meeting. Managers knew the best form of communication to reach their team.
Text Suzy. Call Tom. Video Bob.
With the help of HR professionals and business consultants, even small localized companies were able to find their rhythm during the pandemic.
Month after month of remote working, it was hard to think life would ever go back.
Then the phone rings.
Suzy, Tom, and Bob are all asked to come back to the office. That corner of their bedroom is no longer their cubicle from 9 to 5. The thought of going back to work makes them uneasy. It might be worse than when they were first told they had to work from home.
Their new routines were going to be broken. Their freedom – gone.
Before the pandemic, what employee didn’t dream about being able to work from home? Although many didn’t envision some of the hardships that come along with remote working, the flexibility tied to working from home is attractive. Now that the workforce knows it’s possible, it might seem impossible to get them to willingly come back to the office.
How does your corporate office compete with someone’s home?
Most employees don’t actually value “working from home”. What they value is the flexibility that came with it.
Many employees found working from home to be distracting. It’s very difficult to complete an email when you see a pile of laundry sitting on the table. You decide to take a quick break and an hour later you've cleaned your kitchen.
Successful employees learned how to balance their time effectively. If they wanted to go to the gym in the middle of the day and send emails at night, as long as they successfully completed their tasks, why not? It was hard to argue that you needed to be at your desk during office hours if you were meeting your company expectations.
This taste of flexibility is the cause for many employees not wanting to go back to the office full time.
What can a business or manager do to compete?
You can’t pretend that everything is back to normal. Your company may have every legal right to require your workforce to return, but your company culture and employee engagement will suffer.
Research shows that most employees want to spend some time at the office. Watercooler conversations at home are never quite as enjoyable when it’s a conversation of one. Extroverts make up 50-74 percent of the population. Working in the office provides the mental health boost that most of us require.
Companies that have adapted a flexible scheduling approach have had less resistance to returning to the workplace. By taking advantage of the technology embraced while working from home and the ability to get together as a team, some companies are thriving with this new approach. When companies listen and adapt to their workforce needs, they gain the respect and loyalty of their employees. By allowing some flexibility, you are helping their work-life balance and well-being (both of which are contributing factors in why employees stay/leave companies).
But having a flexible schedule is not a simple ask.
It’s very important that you have a clear set of guidelines and protocols for what is acceptable.
It’s also very important that employees have goals and tasks that can be tracked. It’s very important for managers and companies to know if an employee is maintaining their productivity. Documenting expectations and what needs to be accomplished is vital for flexible scheduling.
Don’t ask your employees to go cold-turkey. Employees have established routines and expectations that could stunt growth and productivity if taken away all at once.
If you have the ability to find a hybrid solution, talk with your HR team or Human Resource consultant. Each industry and business will need a process in place that follows legal regulations while also focusing on employee acceptance.
We have all evolved and developed some new habits. They were not all bad. Some employees removed a 30-minute commute and decided to exercise. Others eliminated vending machine food and started eating healthy snacks.
Let your employees keep the positive habits they’ve created over the last year. Remain flexible and you will benefit from their positive behaviors.