The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new wave of U.S. remote work policies for employers who otherwise may not have considered them. Urged by recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and directives from state and local governments, some businesses have implemented emergency telework plans to honor social distancing orders while keeping their businesses open and their staff safe and employed.
When social distancing orders relax and customer-facing businesses once again open their doors, what will happen to these newly adopted telecommuting policies? Although deciding whether to develop temporary telecommuting plans into actionable, permanent remote work policies will be unique to every business, there are unmistakable telework benefits that should be considered.
3 Key Remote Work Benefits for Employers and Employees
1. Improved Workplace Outlooks
Remote workers are happier than their on-site counterparts. In an Owl Labs survey of 1,200 professionals for its “2019 State of Remote Work” report, those who worked remotely full-time were 22% happier at work than professionals who never work from home. Especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, and the stress and uncertainty it produced, business owners will need to prioritize high morale and optimistic company culture. Maintaining remote work policies after COVID-19 could be an integral part of establishing a new normal within their businesses.
2. Higher Employee Retention
When employees have strong workplace outlooks, they are not as likely to search for new jobs. Remote work policies not only contribute to employee happiness but also inspire them to stay, which is good for business. Job applicants notice when a company’s vacancies appear as if through a revolving door, and customers are also keenly aware of staffing changes. Reducing employee turnover rates helps businesses retain resilient reputations, ensure consistent workflows, enjoy high morale and cohesiveness, decrease new hiring and training costs, and maintain positive workplace culture.
3. Fewer Missed Days
Telecommuting is synonymous with flexibility, which provides employees with greater control over how, when, and where they work. The remote work flexibility advantage is good for both employees and employers in that it leads to reduced absenteeism. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has allowed asymptomatic employees or those with mild COVID-19 symptoms to remain productive while self-isolating at home. This principle also can be applied long-term.
If given the option to work remotely rather than commuting while sick, employees who experience seasonal colds, allergies, and flus may be more likely to work a half-day or complete their work as usual because they are comfortable at home. Permanent remote work plans could also reduce the in-office spread of illnesses while also not compromising productivity.
When Remote Work Makes Sense for Your Company—and When It Does Not
While the reasons for maintaining remote work plans are attractive, telework is not necessarily the best permanent work arrangement for all businesses. Any business owner who implemented a temporary telecommuting plan in response to COVID-19, and is interested in making remote work a core component of their business plan, should evaluate their company’s capabilities by answering questions like these:
- Will your business be 100% virtual or will it be a hybrid business incorporating some on-site and some off-site activities?
- Which, if any, business operations require an on-site presence?
- When your company operates normally, what percentage of its necessary business is customer-facing?
- During your company’s COVID-19 telework stint, did your team successfully use collaborative and online reporting tools (e.g. Slack, Basecamp, Asana, and Google Meet)?
- Were team members engaged when using these and other collaborative tools like email, phone calls, and video conferences?
- Did you encourage open lines of communication with team members, and were their interactions positive and responses timely?
- Was team productivity consistent during your temporary telework plan? Were any dips in productivity directly attributable to remote work strategies that could be improved?
- What feedback did you receive from team members about their remote work experiences?
How Companies Can Transition from Temporary to Permanent Telework Policies
Employers who want to keep their remote work agreements permanently can do so with proper strategy and implementation. When transitioning from contingency to continuing telecommuting plans, here are five suggested steps to keep in mind:
1. Evaluate each role within your business to determine whether it should be part of your company’s telework arrangements, then negotiate remote work guidelines based on your evaluations. Some employees could telecommute full-time while others may need to work on-site for two days per week, or only make quarterly appearances or travel on occasion.
2. Update your remote work policy based on your company’s experience with your temporary COVID-19 plan. Consider tenets that worked as well as ones that can be improved, feedback you received from your team members, software and hardware necessary to conduct long-term business, and goals you have for the future.
3. Prioritize transparency and accountability not only as part of your official remote work policy but also modeled within your own actions and business philosophies. This means outlining and clearly communicating your expectations within each level of your organization.
4. Determine measurable success targets for your telecommuting program. Define what success means to you in relation to both overall business and employee performance as well as company culture.
5. Adapt. An immovable stance to instituting permanent remote work policies will fail. Your approach should be as flexible as the nature of remote work itself. Be open to criticism, accommodations, and retooling.
Although the decision to implement remote work policies full-time after COVID-19 is an individualized one, the case for keeping telework plans in place after social distancing orders relax is a strong one. If permanent telecommuting arrangements make sense for your business, the benefits will be shared across the company and realized for your team members.