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Three years after the Covid-19 pandemic sent us all home, many workers are returning to in-person work — but not all of them are doing so by choice. Most workers say they would consider quitting if forced to return to the office full-time.
While bringing workers back to the office may bolster one’s company culture and potentially increase productivity, there are significant downsides to pushing employees back into the office, and executives and employees are disconnected on the issue.
We cannot ignore the ever-growing call for flexibility from workers. Still, we also cannot instate work-from-home models as a soup du jour — leaders must be intentional about establishing such arrangements if they want them to succeed. So how do we figure out the unique hybrid work model that will work for us, our business and our employees?
Flexible work is the future
The upheaval caused by the pandemic proved that working from home is a viable option for businesses, and I don’t say this without personal evidence. My company has been almost entirely remote since we shuttered our offices in 2020. At the start of that year, we had only nine employees. In 2023, we are approaching 70 total employees and our expected revenue has increased tenfold from 2019. Flexible work arrangements have allowed my company to thrive, and we are not the only organization where this has been the case.
Many employees have also grown to appreciate the newfound flexibility in their life: They’ve been able to ditch their commute and spend more time with their children, exercise in the middle of the day and save money by moving to less expensive cities. Workers are not willing to go back to rigid schedules: They are asking for the opportunity to work from anywhere, at any time, and companies that offer such benefits will be more desirable to prospective employees — “workplace flexibility” was one of the top reasons respondents accepted their current job.
Employers can also hire geographically diverse candidates by offering flexible work arrangements to aid those hiring in competitive markets. If your business is in a tech epicenter and you’re trying to hire local developers, you will find it much more challenging and costly than hiring developers across the country. Flexible work allows businesses to hire a diverse group of excellent employees from around the world without asking them to sacrifice their own needs and preferences.
What to consider when implementing flexible models
Finding the right balance between remote and in-person work for your business will require some investigation. What works for one company or employee may not necessarily work for another. To ascertain what will work for you, there are four questions you should ask yourself:
- What does your company do? What are your goals? Is your work conducive to a remote environment or is in-person work required?
- A team of developers might work best in the comfort of their homes, while civil engineers who oversee manufacturing likely need to work on-site.
- How large is your company?
- A company of 5,000 remote workers needs to be more intentional about creating space for connection, trust-building and community than a company of 50.
- How does your leadership style align with remote work?
- Hands-off leaders might thrive with remote work, but I’ve known leaders who need to be more involved — if they can’t see the work, the work isn’t happening. A remote workforce might feel challenging for such leaders to manage, and they need to consider this factor as they approach hybrid work.
- Can you support workers who may not have a space at home that is conducive to productivity?
- You may need to provide additional support and funds to help employees set themselves up for success while working remotely.
Allowing employees to work from home can substantially increase their quality of life but may become a minefield of distractions without the correct setup. Without adequate support, employees may fall behind, become discouraged, and disengage from the work. It’s up to employers to educate and support employees who want to work remotely to help counteract any negative effects in the work-from-home environment to create a positive long-term situation benefitting all parties. For our company, we did a lot of communication about setting up their environment for success and the benefits of deep work. We offered all employees the opportunity for mentorship to help them have a good foundation for success at home.
Check in with remote employees and ask, “What is the biggest hindrance to completing your work at home? And what do you need more of?” At the beginning of the pandemic, a few of our employees struggled to complete their work. Those with young children and a spouse that also worked had bigger challenges than others. We gave them all some time to catch up and worked with them to establish a better at-home setup. We were rewarded for our patience with loyal employees who are all now thriving at our company. We’ve also sent proper desk chairs or desks to employees who did not have those things or even helped some find a local co-working space — whatever the employee needs to thrive in remote work, it is on us as leaders to help them figure it out.
Embrace the growing pains
Remote work may not be perfect, but we shouldn’t be so quick to rush back to the office due to some hiccups. Instead of seeing these growing pains as evidence of failure, use them as a chance to get curious about how to make work-from-home work for your business and your employees.
Flexible work arrangements are exactly that — it could mean someone works exclusively from home, or maybe they come to the office every day but leave before 5 p.m. to pick up their kids. Beyond the specific arrangement (which will be different for every company and person), what matters is that we communicate with our employees about their needs and preferences to ensure they can accomplish their work and achieve their company goals, whether they are in their pajamas at a kitchen table or in a suit and tie in the office.