A new survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) confirms what most businesses already know: At levels not imagined before March 2020, remote work is here to stay. The BLS says that, of the 34% of private employers that expanded telecommuting arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic, about 60% plan to keep those practices in place.
The agency broke the data down further, reporting that 30% of those companies – which employ almost half of all U.S. workers – allow hybrid schedules, while 10% of them are completely remote.
COVID-19 has reshaped the American workplace in many ways – not the least of which is that the definition of “workplace” itself now includes workers’ homes. In survey after survey, employees express their desire for flexible options that maintain the improved work-life balance they’ve gotten used to since the pandemic forced them out of their offices and other worksites.
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, for example, 61% of workers now say they are not going into the office as a matter of choice – not because their workplace is closed or unavailable to them. They simply prefer working from home.
Earlier in the pandemic, the opposite was true. In October 2020, 64% of respondents said they were working from home because their office was closed, while 36% said they were working from home by choice.
The trend toward offsite work is expected to continue. Experts predict the workforce of the future will telecommute at least part of the time, and employers in industries where that’s feasible should adjust to this new reality if they haven’t already.
The Hybrid Workforce
Given the high demand for remote jobs and the tight labor market, employers who want to attract and retain top talent must accommodate – even embrace – the new norm of a hybrid workforce.
In this competitive talent market, an employer’s willingness to allow remote work is now a determining factor for candidates. Employers who can offer flexible work arrangements will be better positioned for successful recruiting and retention of top talent going forward. To stay competitive, small businesses should place a greater value on productivity and employee engagement than on staffers being physically present in the workplace.
In some cases, remote work just isn’t possible. Employees in certain industries – hospitality, hospital and manufacturing, for example – have to be physically present at the worksite to perform their jobs.
To make remote work a win, small businesses should take these five steps:
Determine Which Jobs Can Be Done Away from the Worksite
Be open-minded and think creatively in making these choices. Just because a particular role always has been carried out onsite in the past doesn’t necessarily mean it couldn’t be handled just as effectively with the employee working remotely.
Consider Multiple Options
The options might include employees working remotely full-time; hybrid (spending some days at work and some days at home) or flexible schedules (such as office hours that coincide with the school day or avoid rush hour); or even allowing employees to choose at-home or onsite work at their discretion, depending on what best fits the demands of their positions on a given day.
Set clear guidelines and expectations for telecommuters, including measurable goals, deliverables and deadlines.
There’s no requirement that your company provide a reliable laptop, an upgraded Wi-Fi connection, an ergonomic desk chair or anything else, but it’s worth considering how you might help employees acquire tools that enhance their productivity.
Create a task force that establishes a continuous feedback loop between employees and company leaders. This group should monitor and assess both employer and employee work-from-home challenges, recommend corresponding solutions and take responsibility for establishing connection points that maintain a strong organizational culture, even when employees aren’t physically working together.
It’s a new work world, and employers who take a common-sense approach to flexible schedules, focusing more on what can work than on what won’t, will be rewarded with a happier workforce, a more sustainable business model and a healthier bottom line.