Are We Still Talking About Working From Home?
Yes, we are. As we start the third year of this pandemic that is now endemic, remote working is still a much-discussed, and sometimes controversial, topic. Initially, there were no choices as government lockdowns created a massive remote workforce. During these early months, companies and employees were on the same page, the only way to keep everyone safe was to keep them at home, isolated, and not on mass transportation or in indoor spaces. As our communities opened up, we reached the next stage as we tried to create lower-density work environments and accommodated hybrid schedules out of concern for children and immune-compromised relatives.
As the risk of being hospitalized or dying from the virus wanes, employers and employees continue to grapple with issues on the work-from-home (WFH) debate.
Photo Credit: Dillon-Shook
Productivity vs. Flexibility
After several years of WFH, the general consensus is that the cost of working from home has been lower productivity. Although employees seemed more content during these times, management observed a drop in output, inconsistent work schedules, and a reduction in engagement with the business, customers, and coworkers. Returning to work, though, has been much more difficult than what the employers anticipated and has resulted in resignations or widespread and vocal dissatisfaction. Companies have dealt with transition in many ways with some allowing long lead times for folks to prepare to return to the office and others continuing to allow some WFH for the foreseeable future. Only a few companies have mandated a full-time return without exceptions. The trend is clear: a large segment of the workforce wants more WFH.
An unexpected benefit of the proliferation of remote work has been the opening up of borders for recruitment. Companies are finding that they now have access to a world of employees that they were unable to attract including those resistant to relocation such as seasoned employees, employees with family obligations, or other ties to their home cities. The use of foreign workers on a remote basis also became more commonplace. The pandemic made the use of remote workers, which earlier used to be limited to high-tech industries, a norm in every enterprise including small, mid-sized, and family-owned businesses. These businesses actually had the most to gain from the opening up of their labor pool, allowing them to access talent wherever they may be located.
One issue highlighted by an at-home, and often isolated, workforce was employee mental health. The circumstances of the last couple years brought to the forefront the importance of focusing on all aspects of an employee’s life including their health. Companies used the opportunity to institute benefits and programs to address these matters including offering counseling and providing access to preventive care. Employers are also being more intentional about building relationships with and among employees with a greater focus on events that bring people together, especially if they are not normally together.
Employers are also grappling with the issue of fairness and equality when it comes to working from home, since these options are often only available to the higher-paid white-collar workforce. Increasingly, companies are considering who is being required to come in to the workplace and whether that creates a discriminatory hierarchy. As an example, a large big box retailer decided to require all employees to come to work during the pandemic to make sure they were not favoring salaried corporate staff over hourly employees working on the shop floors.
Even as working from home becomes a standard practice, the many issues that it raises will need to be addressed. A proactive management team should be sure to think through these concerns before instituting more permanent WFH policies.
Business Insights is hosted by the Law Firm of KPPB LAW (www.kppblaw.com).
Sonjui L. Kumar is a founding partner of KPPB LAW, practicing in the area of corporate law and governance.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice.
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