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How to Continue to Support Your Employees Through Work Style Transitions

Supporting your workforce as we all move through the pandemic can help make everyone’s lives a whole lot better. Here’s how to do it right.

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by Angela Roberts, CEO, U.S. Money Reserve

Back in March 2020, we all had to make a quick shift in how we worked and the way we thought about the location we worked at. Regardless of whether we occupied the corner office or the main office, the world we knew and relied on was totally upended by the pandemic and the broader need to keep people safe from COVID-19. That shift has caused a variety of difficulties and opportunities in this new and emerging world of work, and it’s required all of us to change our expectations and the parameters around which we engage with employees and employers. As a company leader, you must consider it vital to understand how best to support workers in order to provide them with the most opportunities to thrive in this world. As the pandemic progresses, as the vaccines get rolled out, and as we all move forward with new lessons, we as business leaders, managers, and everyday people can take certain actions to support our employees through these work style transitions. Here are four ideas leaders can implement to help make these undulations between the office and home office a bit less disruptive.

Understand that Remote Work Isn’t Going Away

The truth is that no matter how much we want to go back to the office and have our “old lives” back, remote work is here to stay. In fact, the number of people working from home is likely to grow exponentially as most of us continue to work remotely through this pandemic. Even after the vaccines are fully rolled out, and many Americans are inoculated, remote work will be here to stay. And it’s not just because it makes business sense. Employees want it, too.

Gartner published a study back in July 2020 showing just this. Gartner surveyed 127 company leaders in June 2020, and 82% of them said that they plan to continue to allow their employees to work from home as we navigate the ebbs and flows of the pandemic. Of those surveyed, 47% plan to make remote work a permanent feature of their business, and 43% said that they plan to offer flex-time for employees. Interestingly, respondents who said they plan on continuing to offer remote work and flex-time are doing it in order to make their business operations more resilient and to help meet employee expectations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided us all with one massive work-from-home experiment. Some things have worked while others have not. Yet the truth is that after nearly a year of working remotely, employees expect to continue to be able to work remotely so that they can take care of their families as we all work through this unprecedented event together. Taking remote work opportunities off the table for workers would significantly hinder a company’s ability to attract and retain top talent. While some jobs simply cannot be done remotely, those employees who can work from anywhere will expect that they will be able to do so well into the future.

Communicate Regularly and Clearly

Once we all come around to the idea that remote work will become the norm, we need to determine just how to make the most of it, which means continuing to hone all of our communication skills. This applies not only to those in the corner office. Remote work can only be successful if we all can fluidly, clearly, and concisely communicate on a regular and consistent basis. This ensures that business continues to hum on all cylinders no matter where we physically work.

In many ways, technology has helped with these aspects of communication. Zoom and teleconferencing have become the norm. We have held holiday parties and massive corporate gatherings on videoconference, and they’ve been successful. This isn’t to say that collaboration can’t also thrive in in-person environments, but it does mean that we need to learn to continue to hone our communication skills on all platforms. The medium is also the message, and we must all learn to tailor our messages to meet our employees and coworkers where they are, whether they are in the office or working remotely.

Get the Right Technology in Place

One of the critical things we all need to continue to develop when it comes to supporting our employees through work style transitions is ensuring that we have the right technology in place to meet everyone’s needs. If, at this point, you’re still going through some growing pains with a new technology platform, it may be time to rethink your approach to remote work. Don’t shoehorn a platform into your workflow if it’s just not working for what you need, especially in the current environment. Every dollar wasted on lousy technology is money lost to the wind—and as economic uncertainty abounds, that’s not something that a successful company can continue to sustain.

Additionally, as a company leader, you should seriously consider offering technology subsidies for remote workers so that they can get a home office or remote office set up. Leaders can also provide mobile tech to be used remotely to help ensure that employees are engaged, productive, and available when needed. You could consider providing some subsidized support for home office furniture or WiFi costs as well. Consider it a way to continue to entice the best employees to stay with you through this phase change. Without this kind of support, remote work will not be sustainable, and your business will pay the price.

Provide Some Family and Wellness Benefits That Remote Workers Can Actually Use

While office life has its challenges, remote work offers its own unique mental health difficulties. The change in environment has left many feeling isolated, depressed, and struggling to define the lines between home and work life. While all that is part of the ever-evolving growing pains as we change the way we work, corporate leaders can do a lot to help alleviate that stress, which in turn will help workers be more productive, engaged, and happier. Here’s how you can help.

One of the biggest frustrations and stumbling blocks for remote workers is the division of labor between work activities and family activities. Many people are helping to school their children at the same time that they are working. Others are trying to care for ailing or sick loved ones, and during these difficult times, they could use the support of the companies they work for. Perhaps you could consider using the cash you spent on in-office yoga or weekly lunches to help alleviate some of the burdens on remote workers. Consider it an extension of the health benefits you already offer.

Additionally, it’s essential to offer remote workers some form of support system to deal with the blurring of the lines between home and work life. Stress can impact mental health and finding ways to help support workers in their time of need is vital to the bottom line. Your company cannot run without people who are fully engaged and connected. If you’re losing your employees to mental health issues, you must find a way to help support them holistically.

Help Employees Find a Work-Life Balance

In past posts, I’ve written extensively about work-life balance. The truth is that work-life balance is much easier to achieve when work happens in another physical place besides the home. With the advent of the pandemic and resulting social distancing, work and life are now happening all at once in the same place. This situation can and often does lead to rapid burnout for leaders, companies, and individual employees.

Perhaps for your company, this means setting specific work hours for remote work or allowing employees to figure out the right flex-times for them. It may mean offering other ways for employees to manage their workloads or finding new ways to connect with others. Maybe it means creating some kind of incentive for employees to take active breaks during the week or day. Some innovative companies have sent employees pedometers or started walking and step competitions to help engage remote workers and help them stay healthy. There are plenty of great ideas out there. It’s just a matter of figuring out the one that might work best for your employees.

Essentially, leaders need to trailblaze a way forward that both supports the work that needs to be done in order to maintain and grow a successful business and offers valuable workers real opportunities to unplug, relax, and rejuvenate. We can’t all continue to work from sunup to sundown with no breaks. Eventually, both our work life and our home life will suffer the consequences.

The Bottom Line

The truth about all these changes is that they must come from the top. Employees look to their company leaders to guide them in this new world, and without a clear path forward, morale can drop, employees can become disengaged, and the company can suffer. No matter what you decide to do with your company, company leaders need to understand and take these four core tenets to heart. The long-term impact that the pandemic will have on work styles, whether we are in the office or not, remains to be seen, but one thing is absolutely certain: After nearly a year of sheltering in place and practicing social distancing, the office life we once knew isn’t coming back. It’s time we figure out how best to help support our employees through these ongoing transitions, clearly communicate with them, support them with the right technology and benefits, and help them find their way back to some semblance of work-life balance. While no one company leader is expected to get it all right, taking these factors into consideration will ensure that you enable your business to last well into the future and that you can carry your best employees forward with you.

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