Flexible work arrangements for a post pandemic world

I originally wrote this column in 2018, a time when employees were “needed” in the office.

It is too soon to tell whether people will begin working from home permanently but we do know that employees will demand more flexibility in their work schedules after the public health restrictions have lifted.

A recent Gallup poll reported that most people want to continue working from home after the pandemic. A full 59% of people polled would like to work remotely as much as possible and only 41% would like to return to the office as much as before.

It is not logical or possible to give every employee the opportunity to work from home, but you can prepare for when you will be asked for more flexibility from your employees. So let’s take a refresher course on the different types of flexible work arrangements and the extra steps needed to ensure a productive transition.

The following is an overview of flexible work arrangements and their definitions:

• Flex time: Compressed work week, flex hours, banking time (PTO) and shift swaps.

• Flex time off: Extra vacation, personal days, long-term time off and reduced hours.

• Flex location: Work remotely.

According to a study done in 2014 by McLean & Company HR Trends, flexible work arrangements are the norm rather than the exception. Many employees consider workplace flexibility to be one of the most important factors in considering job offers.

In fact, 64% of millennials would like to work from home occasionally. Sixty-six percent of other employee generational groups would like to sometimes shift their work hours.

Location flexibility has become a widely accepted practice, and most organizations that do permit it develop metrics to track their return on investment. Working from home might look differently based on situations:

• Regular, recurring: Regularly scheduled workdays working from a home office.

• Brief, occasional at-home work: Employee writes a report or prepare a spreadsheet after hours, on a weekend or at home just to avoid interruptions.

• Temporary or emergency work: Working from home to ensure business continuity during inclement weather, a natural disaster or an event that causes significant traffic and parking disruptions.

• Regular and consistent days during the week: Each week looks the same so everyone knows on Tuesday’s that Jim works from his home office and know to contact him there.

Some of the benefits an employer receives for offering workspace flexibility are that it can limit employee absences, it could increase productivity and it’s possible to save money on office space and related expenses.

Flexibility also opens the talent pool for recruiting efforts. Employees might be happier and more engaged and will spend less time driving to and from the office. Generally people want flexibility from their employers so most will see this as a positive change and a benefit to brag about. It provides an extension of trust for employees from the company.

The positives for employees are many in that they will save commuting time, they are away from workplace drama, they can take breaks when they want, they can wear what they want, they can spend more time with family and they might be happier and more engaged in their work. They will enjoy a sense of faith from their manager and company to work out of sight and be trusted to get their responsibilities accomplished.

Of course, there are some alternative effects to be mindful of. When employees work remotely it can change the culture and dynamic of the work environment, the flow of communication and there could be a need to add more video conferencing than in the past.

The company will need to develop metrics to help manage projects and maintain accountability. There might be a loss of productivity due to different distractions at home (kids, laundry, etc.) and you must pay attention to security issues with business information.

There can be situations where there are technological issues, i.e., slow internet connections, improper computer capabilities, etc.

The employer might have to manage some workers being disgruntled because they are not permitted to work from home as their responsibilities don’t lend themselves to working remotely, i.e., receptionist or individuals who meet with customers at the office throughout the day.

For employees who work at home either occasionally or full-time they might miss out on the collaboration that goes on between individuals who work in an office setting. They also could lack the self-discipline it takes to work from home.

They will be out of the hub of activity in terms of office politics, management and intellectual ferment and might experience more distractions and interruptions while at home. They might not like mixing home and work together; this relationship could make them work more because it’s always there. They might believe as though it has a negative impact on career advancement and perception that employees away from the office are not as available as those working in a traditional office setting.

When offering employees a flexible workspace be sure to implement a thoughtful, written policy to help administer the transition. Having a prescriptive policy will reduce questions and guess work for administration; it also will provide equal treatment for all employees who can take advantage of it and the company can boast as a benefit to candidates they are trying to recruit. This could be a deal breaker for some recruits in deciding to take an offer of employment.

One of the basic extensions the company needs to make to employees is trust. Without it the policy will not have an opportunity to be successful.

Company leadership and supervisors must trust that employees will indeed get their work accomplished in a timely manner and trust that employees will not take advantage of the employer because they are given freedom of workspace. In turn the benefits are many for overall increased morale, employee engagement and ultimately success of the organization.