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Business/Economy

Your employees learned to work remotely in 2020. Why not let them keep working that way in 2021?

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | Alaska Workplace
  • Updated: February 1
  • Published February 1

Q: COVID-19 hit our company hard. We cut employees, then salaries. We lost half our revenue.

Some employees left the state when their spouses’ high-paying jobs evaporated. Others took off when COVID combined with our cold, dark winter proved too much. Because these employees had talents we needed, we kept them as “snowbirds.” At first, it didn’t cause trouble. Everyone was working from home, so it didn’t matter where “home” was.

Now that we’ve moved back into the office building, our Anchorage-based employees complain about the “snowbirds.” They feel the snow birders get an unfairly sweet deal, as they don’t have to show up at 8 a.m. or handle the sanitizing tasks our on-site employees do.

We worry we’ve created two classes of employees, snow birders and locals. Two of our supervisors complain that managing snow birders makes their life harder, as they can’t see what the “out of sight” employees are doing and have to rely on email and Zoom.

Answer:

You’ve described three problems: jealousy, different standards for local and snowbird employees, and supervisory challenges. These problems remain if you continue operating as you did pre-COVID-19.

The pandemic forced employers to allow remote work when possible. For some, the experiment failed. Employee productivity dropped.

For others, flexibility became the new norm, and they reaped the benefits.

Your company survived, and your employees stuck with you. You owe it to them and yourself to explore this new norm.

What if you give local employees the benefits snow birders enjoy and allow more employees to work from non-office locations? Before you dismiss this idea, consider what the research shows. Researchers at the Harvard Business School in 2019 found that employees at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office who were allowed to work remotely were 4.4% more productive than their in-office counterparts. A side benefit — you may need less office space.

Your workers’ comp carrier can help you decide how to handle problems that might arise with telecommuting. You may need some of your employees to remain on site. What if you allowed these employees to reorder their working hours to create a schedule that works best for them and optimizes productivity?

For employees home-schooling children, this may mean work done before the kids wake up, in snatches throughout the school day, and after the kids finish dinner. For commuting employees, this may mean a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. work schedule to shave rush hour commute time.

According to a study reported in Business News Daily in 2019, 26% of employees stated that the freedom to choose when they start and end their shifts is one of the two flexible workplace policies that employees desire most (the other is choosing their work location).

Global Workplace Analytics reported that American Express’ flexible workforce achieved a productivity level 43% higher than their traditional counterparts.

Employees provided workday flexibility by their employers feel trusted and valued. Global Workplace Analytics also reported AT&T discovered that its remote workers worked five more hours weekly than its on-site workers.

In a Harvard Business Review survey of 1,583 white-collar professionals, employees lacking flexibility were twice as likely to report dissatisfaction. Half of the professionals surveyed stated that they would leave their employers if another employer offered them more flexibility. This study also noted that 34% of those surveyed stated that the traditional workday structure made it challenging for them to perform to employer expectations.

Deloitte & Touche’s internal research puts bottom-line numbers to the importance flexibility plays in retention. Their data reveals a $41.5 million savings in employee turnover costs by retaining employees who stated they would have left if they hadn’t been able to work a flexible schedule.

Your supervisors will need to learn to manage remotely, and in the process may become better managers of your on-site workers. They’ll need to set clear expectations for all employees, whether on or off-site, and manage for results. A flexible work policy additionally provides you a no-cost way to make your total employee compensation package stand out.

While considering whether to allow more employees location and schedule flexibility won’t solve all your problems, it’s a 2021 strategy worth considering.

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