May 28, 2020

Are Employers Rethinking Work from Home Policies Yet?



Published on May 28, 2020 by Greg Samuels

 

Now that offices are beginning to reopen, businesses will need to reevaluate their stay-at-home policies after months of remote work

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Prior to about 3 months ago, working from home was considered a perk or a privilege for employees who typically report to an office Monday through Friday. Managed closely by policies, time keeping and check-ins, many companies offered the opportunity to work from home as a “bargaining chip” to keep their employees happy.

Throughout the course of this event, I agree that being able to run my business from the safety of my home has been a privilege. However, I have owned and operated Solvaria for the last eight years where all of my employees work remotely most of the time. Our company culture was built around flexibility, and working from home has been a successful option for our team and not offered as a reward for good behavior. While we miss the ability to have face-to-face meetings in our Glen Allen office, the transition during the COVID-19 outbreak was remarkably smooth for us, with no interruption to in our day-to-day operations.

Interestingly, saw a similarly seamless transition from many of our traditionally office-bound clients as well – little to no interruption in business and employee productivity. So, what are these employees going to think about returning to their offices full-time after months of working from home? While I’m sure there will be relief to return to the comradery an office fosters, there are many employees who have already experienced a smooth transition to teleworking. They have been productive, focused and collaborative in new ways. So, if I were an employee being forced back to my office full time, I might start to wonder why.

Having served in both the CEO and CIO positions in my career, I’ve gained a lot of perspective on management, but my approach to working from home comes from my first job out of college. I worked as a programmer for the now defunct Circuit City Stores who was, in my opinion, ahead of its time in its approach to employee flexibility and productivity. One approach that has always stayed with me, and I still use at my firm today, is the concept of time away and task-based management. The philosophy is that managers should not have to babysit, clock watch, or track how many hours an employee is in his or her office chair on any given day.  What is important is that the tasks assigned to that employee are accomplished when he or she says they will be done.  If an employee is required to be at his or her desk from exactly 8:00am to 5:00pm, but is not efficient with time management or task completion, both the employee and employer are unhappy.

Focusing on that philosophy, is an employee working from home and taking care of business duties on their own time going to be just as valuable to a company as they are when they are stuck at their desk? In my experience, yes. I believe the workers that have always gotten their work done at the office will continue to thrive in a remote environment.  The ones that use this as an opportunity to take a free vacation will be the same unproductive group that punches the clock promptly at 8:00 and 5:00 every day at the office.

Someone once said that events like these don’t introduce weaknesses in organizations, they expose existing ones.  In this case, organizations who don’t acknowledge the shift occurring in our ability to successfully work from home may lose valuable employees if they are forced to return to their desks full time. Instead, they should be using this time to evolve, using the productivity data in front of them to make sure they create a flexible, forward thinking business in 2020 and beyond. 

While it is hard to plan for the new normal when beginning the plight back to the office after months at home, this event is going to change the face of the workplace permanently. Senior management is going to see the value in having a remote workforce, and the willingness to invest heavily in company real estate and employee office perks will start to wane. Employees will continue jumping from one virtual meeting to another, maintaining busy and fulfilling schedules from whatever work environment they choose. Soon, nobody will even notice as we connect to videoconferences wearing hoodies and home loungewear as working from home fades from a privilege, to a standard.

Since this blog was written, many of these predictions are coming to fruition. Both Twitter and Square have announced a permanent work-from-home policy, and Facebook says many of their employees will also now be fully remote. Many more companies may be following these "tech giants" lead soon. How is your organization handling its work from home policy? Are you seeing a shift in company culture? Let us know in the comments!

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