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How the state of the current world may transform long term policies and norms for flexible and remote work

Questions for small business owners and entrepreneurs alike to ask when evaluating WFH policies moving forward

We are now living in a world where employees that are able to perform their day-to-day responsibilities from the comforts of their own homes, are no longer given the option but instead are required to do so. As the external conditions of our physical world keep us inside, the nature of how work gets done is rapidly changing. According to a study done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018, 29% of American workers could work remotely and 57% had a flexible schedule that allowed them to vary the time they began and stopped working. Companies, both large and small, are being required to adapt in an economic landscape that is ever evolving and one that has few shared similarities to previous historical events in our lifetimes. As companies that may have previously limited remote and flexible work arrangements adopt these new changes in order to stay afloat during this volatility, new precedents are being set which could alter future decisions by companies, expectations of employees, and overall shifts in sentiment on working from home overall. 

The effects of these new conditions on efficiency, productivity, and engagement amongst others will undeniably be captured, measured and analyzed by independent companies, research institutions, and. This data may alter the way business owners shape policies in the future around the roles that can work from home, the frequency in which their employees are remote, and the schedules employees must or mustn’t follow. 

Depending on the length of what feels to be a perpetual work-from-home-state, employees will inevitably begin to adapt to this new work arrangement. As a result, they may continue to expect this flexibility in the future, long after the world begins to return back to some version of its previous state. The importance of this benefit and weight that it holds on a prospective employee’s decision making for future employment decisions could be altered as a result. 

Through these times, the general sentiment around working from home may fluctuate for both parties. Employees may begin to enjoy the new-found time arising from eliminating their commutes, the flexibility of spending time with children and family, or the time spent alone in their own spaces. Those who once combated the concept, may realize they are actually more productive than they once thought they could be. Others may spend every work day from here on out wishing for the day they are told they can be back in the office. On the other side, companies may uncover financial and long-term benefits that come from allowing more flexible working arrangements for their employees. Opposingly, data may suggest their workers are less productive or the lack of in-person connections stifles creativity, as referenced in a recent NY Times article. Depending on both the scale and types of investments that were made to enable wide scale remote work, companies may opt to continue utilizing these investments moving forward.

As a downstream effect to the present conditions companies and their employees are facing today, it appears opportunities for broader shifts in company culture may arise. More traditional office cultures may loosen and introduce more flexibility, as historical data begins to serve as a point of reference for initiating these changes. The types of flexibility and arrangements employees expect from their employers may also shift, further driving companies to change. While many companies adapt in the short to medium term to these conditions, the long-term effects of these arrangements on policies and norms for how work is done may be subject to change. However, the degree to which these changes take hold permanently across both individual organizations and entire industries is a question that still remains wide open.

Thinking ahead

While we still don’t know how drastically the current circumstances will impact how work is done in the future, small and large business owners alike can work through the following questions to help start thinking about what their organizations look like now and how they may need to adapt in the case these changes brought up by necessity become our new normal.

Present state

  • What do your current policies allow your employees to do regarding flexible work schedules and remote work?
    • If you already include these benefits in your company policies:
      • How many of your employees currently utilize these benefits? 
      • What job roles do these employees have? 
      • How often do they work from home?
      • How much do your employees value these benefits? 
    • If you don’t currently include these benefits:
      • What is the current reason for not offering this flexibility? 
      • Are there roles in your organization that could potentially be done remotely?
      • Have your employees ever voiced the need/want for these benefits?
      • What is the cost and risks to adding this benefit for your employees?
  • What is your organization’s general sentiment on working remotely and flexible work schedules? 
    • Is the benefit available but employees are afraid to utilize it on a regular basis?
    • Are your employees hesitant to voice their desire for this benefit?
    • Are managers supportive of their direct reports utilizing this benefit?
  • What investments, if any, have you needed to make in the current state of the world to adapt?
  • What have you noticed, both positive and negative, as a result of employees working remotely during the current state?

Questions to help bridge the gap

  • If you already include these benefits in your company policies:
    • What is the cost and benefit of expanding the amount of time your employees are able to work remotely?
    • What systems, software, and hardware would be necessary to handle a higher load of remote work?
    • How can you honestly capture your employee preferences for working remotely and flexible schedules?
    • What are the risks of expanding your remote work and flexible schedule policies?
    • What data do you have/can capture that can help inform you on whether this arrangement is positively or negatively affecting your business?
    • Do your competitors offer a comparable or better policy to their employees? 
  • If you don’t currently include these benefits:
    • What percentage of your workforce can work remotely and/or utilize flexible work schedules given the nature of their job role and responsibilities?
    • What systems, software, and hardware would be necessary to enable remote work?
    • What would be the cost and benefit of offering either partial or full-time remote work to your employees who you determined could potentially do so?
    • Do your competitors offer this benefit to their employees?
    • Are there solutions available that could mitigate risks of your employees working outside the office?
    • How can you shift your company culture and sentiment around working remotely?
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