The global health crisis, as a result of COVID-19, expedited a shift to remote work and its ensuing popularity. The Pew Research Center reports that 71% of Americans worked remotely in April 2020, and 54% indicated they’d like to telecommute even after the pandemic.
In an economy characterized by not enough workers but too many jobs—you’re competing for talent, as the hirer. Strict, black-and-white workforce policies will quickly put you at a disadvantage; about 1 in 3 workers say they’d quit if forced to return to the office full time.
Over the past year, people realized they could have it all: a great job, the flexibility to work when and where they want, and better work-life balance. If you want to retain employees and attract top talent, you need a policy refresh.
And don’t make the mistake of trying to “go back to normal.” The new environment can be a win-win for your company and your employees with the right policies in place. Here’s how you can adjust to changing expectations.
Minimize or completely avoid blanket policies
One size does not fit all when it comes to workforce models. Rigid policies often lead to employee dissatisfaction, decreased communication, and increased bureaucracy. At my company, we’ve seen organizations face a backlash for choosing exclusively on-site or remote work. The trick is adopting a hybrid blend that meets individual employees’ needs and business requirements.
You can avoid blanket policies by establishing expectations and building a workable schedule for each team. State upfront that this is an experiment, one tailored for each work team to maximize performance. Monitor designated metrics to review with your staff each quarter, maintaining an open discussion regarding what’s working and what isn’t. If changes are needed, make them and revisit next quarter.
With my team, we like to believe that 95% of employees are responsible people. But if you do experience any pushback, reference the expectations you established at the beginning. For example, a large company we worked with adopted a hybrid model and established that workers would be called into the office for specific business reasons. Unfortunately, a couple of employees were too literal; they felt like being asked to come in when they were scheduled to work from home that day violated the remote policy. If you run into a similar issue, don’t let the 5% of people who aren’t team players harm the rest of your workforce.
Consider what works best for workers and their levels of productivity
Even after a year of working from home, some companies still don’t trust that their workforces will be productive without supervision. Demand for activity-measuring software reached an all-time high in 2020. As many as 26% of companies added tracking software to employees’ laptops.
Despite what some would call the “Big Brother” effect, employees remained productive while working from home. Why? You hired adults; it should come as no surprise that they’re trustworthy. The people you invested in used the pandemic to discover how they worked best. In the next normal, remember this, and find a balance between employees’ individual needs and company objectives.
When revamping your workforce policy, consider that everyone has a different circadian rhythm, which affects their ability to focus, their sleep schedules, and more. Failure to accommodate people’s biological clocks can be detrimental. It’s up to you to facilitate a team schedule that assures support for internal and external stakeholders, is fair and efficient, meets individuals’ needs for flexibility, and is agreed on by everyone. Not only does this system ensure better outcomes, but it also builds accountability among team members.
Use technology to be innovative and collaborative
Yahoo banned working from home in 2013 after expressing concerns about remote work precluding collaboration. In reality, people who have studied this issue found no evidence that in-person work heightens innovation. The problem is companies weren’t using collaborative processes pre-pandemic.
If you recognize that you’re not maximizing the intellectual potential of your workforce, then you need to determine what current decisions, changes, and initiatives would be significantly enhanced with collaboration. Then, plan events, meetings, and conferences designed to foster and capture that input while embracing technology tools to enable those experiences.
As a facilitator, I use many processes to prompt creative ideas, including brainstorming, force-field analysis, contingency diagrams, multi-voting, etc. These can be replicated online using project management software like Nifty or Trello, brainstorming programs like MindMeister or Evernote, or videoconferencing tools like Zoom or Google Meet (with the caveat that you avoid “Zoom fatigue” by using breakout rooms and other features). Don’t base your workforce policies around the misconception that remote work leads to a disconnected culture. Instead, facilitate digital touch points that promote innovation through nontraditional interactions.
The takeaway message? Empower your employees to do their work with policies that blend their needs with the company’s needs. If there are major issues, go back to the teams and ask for their solutions. When you stop thinking that you always know best, you create opportunities for your workforce to demonstrate ownership and accountability. What else could you want?
Sue Bingham is founder and principal of HPWP Group. She’s driven to create high-performing workplaces by partnering with courageous leaders who value the contributions of team members.