It’s not an exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 pandemic changed work as we know it. One of the ways it unquestionably changed the American workforce was by making flexible work situations the norm. Remote workers, completing tasks on their own hours, were everywhere—and they were getting their jobs done.
There are obviously benefits to face-to-face work. Many employers prefer having their employees in office, where workers can collaborate, get to know one another, and foster bonds that translate into customer loyalty.
It’s also nice to have more eyes on what your employees are actually doing while on the clock. The idea that a remote worker could be at the dentist or scrolling the internet in the middle of the day understandably makes employers nervous.
But workers got used to remote work in 2020, and it’s been hard to get them back in the door. Once people got used to working from home and saw how productive they could be, the idea of a commute seemed less and less appealing.
Now, many job applicants are actively seeking remote work positions.
The job market is shifting—the Great Resignation isn’t as prevalent as it’s been previously, and there probably aren’t quite as many open positions you’re desperate to fill. But it can still be tricky to find the right person for open roles in your company. And over 50% of workers are more likely to choose an employer who allows them to work from home than one who doesn’t (source).
Whether employers like it or not, employees are craving flexibility.
So how can you provide for flexible employees in the new year and beyond? Whether you’re able to offer remote work or not, there are ways you can incorporate flexible working conditions into your culture, and doing so will likely benefit both you and your workforce.
Upgrade Your Technology
For remote work to—well, work, adequate technology is required.
Sketchy internet connections or fuzzy cameras are going to add a lot more friction to your workflow. If your company has remote workers, it should also be investing in high quality video chatting and screen sharing technology.
It might also behoove you to contract with an IT service who can help remote workers in case they’re having technology issues that are preventing them from working. All of your employees should feel as if they’re able to communicate clearly, not just the ones in the office.
Scheduling technology will be helpful as well; if people can’t swing by your desk to ask a question, they may need to schedule a more formal meeting and programs like Fantastical or Calendly can help facilitate that.
If your company has flexible workers, you also might want to consider providing them with a technology budget to upgrade their own hardware. It’s going to be much easier to video chat with a brand new Macbook than a 10-year-old one they snagged on eBay.
Good technology is an absolute must for flexible working situations. Without it, you may begin to over-rely on in-person workers and unintentionally neglect your remote workforce.
Take Time for Small Talk
Many of us roll our eyes at small talk, but at the end of the day, getting to know your employees is never a waste of time.
If you aren’t physically running into people in the break room or at someone’s birthday gathering, you’ll have fewer opportunities to learn about their family or hobbies. Take time at the beginning of a video call to casually chat so that every employee feels like you want to get to know them as a person.
It’s easy to accidently slide into preferential treatment if you know one employee better than another, and getting to know people virtually takes a little more work. That work, however, will pay off in terms of company culture and employee retention.
Finding a way to incorporate your remote workers into social activities can be a good idea as well. Are you able to fly them in for major milestone events? Or would you consider shifting some of your social activities to Zoom so they can participate?
Finding a way to incorporate remote workers into your social settings can go a long way in terms of company culture.
Offer Other Flexible Measures
If your company is unavailable to provide a remote work situation, are there other ways you could be flexible?
There are some industries where someone working in a remote locations simply isn’t feasible. But try and get creative with other flexible measures.
Could a person keep their own schedule, or do they have to be in the office 9-5? Could they have flex holidays, or do they have to utilize the ones your company provides for them even if they aren’t holidays they personally observe? Are they able to occasionally bring their kids or pets into the office? Can they use their own technology? Do they have the freedom to experiment on their own projects during work hours?
Some of these will be a good fit for your industry and company culture; some of them won’t. But the point is to think outside the box when it comes to what a typical employee’s working life looks like.
The more flexibility you can offer, the better, even if it isn’t a remote location.
Focus on Outcomes
Lastly, try not to lose sight of what’s most important—outcomes.
You can always test and change situations to see what work scenario provides your business with the best outcomes. If your company is hyper focused on keeping employees in the office, ask yourselves why.
Is it really because collaboration and contact help you create better products or services? Maybe.
But it might be because you want to recoup your real estate investment or believe the old school way is simply the best way to do things. Try to keep in mind that your company is about providing a service, and turning a profit. If you’re able to do both of those things with remote workers, why not give it a try?
Claire Swinarski is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.