By Jennifer Flanagan
Widespread office closures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic sent millions of white-collar employees home to work. This left the employees and their managers, some of whom may have been new to telework, on their own to perform as remote workers.
Whether facing a future pandemic, natural disaster, or just the reality of millions of workers who will grow accustomed to and functional in the work-from-home environment, many believe this will be the new normal for work as we go forward. What lessons have WFH veterans and HR professionals learned that can help guide your company’s telework success?
The following tips can help make the most of home-based work:
- Relationships built yesterday will help relationships tomorrow. When the pandemic first hit, it left those facing work outside the familiar comfort of the local office with more questions than answers. Humans crave interaction and can be vulnerable without those same interactions. Many who had built strong relationships with their clients and co-workers through in-person meetings before the pandemic have found that rapport strengthened through the bond of trust today.
- Make the most of the technology. For many, video conferencing apps like Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx and Microsoft Teams have replaced traditional conference calls. For some, the transition has not come easily: body language, inflection, and tone of voice can be hard to read. If necessary, upgrade your video camera to improve how you appear and sound. Help each other comfortably bridge the distance and perhaps share stories of about being awkward on camera. You will be in good company.
- Returning to the office. With phase one in South Florida, more office are reopening. Public health officials wonder if a “second wave” of the pandemic will come. Sending your employees back to the workplace before there’s consensus regarding safety might leave some uncomfortable returning to work. Listen to your employees’ concerns, whether fear of being in an office with other people , grief in adjusting to this new societal normal, or some other concern. Then address them individually and with empathy and care. Provide masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other safety related items that may be appropriate in your workplace or legally required by federal or state law to help them feel confident that their workplace is a safe and healthy one.
- Prepare for more work from home requests. Once it’s safe to return to the office, some workers may want to continue teleworking. Initial fears of isolation, distraction, or lack of productivity will have given way to an appreciation and preference for working from home, if only part of the time. You may have legal obligations to accommodate some workers to enable them to do their jobs. Is your organization flexible enough to collaborate with your employees and accommodate those requests and cognizant enough of how it may affect your clients and employees? Start thinking about how to engage with your employees to accommodate these requests.
- What about that office space? This is a turning point for the office real estate market. Office tenants around the world are weighing whether telework has proven they don’t need all that space. If your company finds telework successful and your employees are comfortable with remote work, consider making work from home at some level part of your model. In addition to the social distancing benefits of remote work, you could save on rent, utilities, insurance, and other costs, including the strain daily commutes place on your people and the environment.
- Review your existing policies and your business continuity plan. Whether regarding a pandemic or a host of other potential crises, your plan must address how HR and leadership will handle issues related to the workplace and remote work in a crisis situation. Whether you have your own plan or one provided by your HR or payroll partner, the right resources can provide trusted, verified information on workplace health and business continuity best practices, as well as market research to understand how businesses like yours are proactively addressing and responding to the situation.
The pandemic sent millions of employees home to work. What will tomorrow look like for your company and your employees? The lessons learned today can provide both guidance and agility for how you respond to future events—or just re-envision the 21st Century workplace.
Jennifer Flanagan is HR Services Area Manager for Oasis, a Paychex Company. Oasis is a leading Professional Employer Organization (PEO) providing HR Administration, employee benefits, healthcare reform (ACA), payroll administration and risk management services to help small- and medium-sized businesses to compete with Fortune 500 companies. PEO services are provided by Oasis Outsourcing and its affiliates.