Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Dennis Miller, AVP of Human Resources and Benefits Administration at The Claremont Colleges.

Sometime in 2021, it seems likely that we will be returning to a “new normal” in the workplace. We’re hearing from big companies like Salesforce - who recently announced that it will reopen its San Francisco headquarters on May 1, followed by its Palo Alto and Irvine, Calif., offices. Salesforce says it will begin with groups of vaccinated volunteer employees, who will return in groups of 100 or fewer, and will be tested for coronavirus infections at least twice a week. Other big technology companies have announced various plans with some indicating they will allow more remote work options (Facebook) and others making it clear they will expect workers back in-person for at least some of the time (Google).

In short, the return to normal is going to look very different depending on where you work and what parameters your employer sets.

In my world of higher education, we’re working hard to identify the things about the way we work that have changed for the better during the pandemic, and the things that have changed for the worse.

For example, in higher education prior to the pandemic, offering employees remote work and flexible working schedules historically occurred on a limited basis for a very small number of roles. However, these workplace flexibility options have become common during the past 12 months for those employees who are able to work off-site. 

And, according to a recent poll conducted by Mercer, 46% of higher educational institutions expect the flexibility with remote work options to continue post-pandemic. This same poll indicates that “working remotely appears to be largely successful” as shown by the following data:

Broadly speaking, organizations that maintain this new level of flexibility (the same flexibility that has been in place for the last 10 - 12 months) will likely fare much better when it comes to recruitment and retention efforts, and overall employee engagement, especially when compared to similar organizations that decide to go back to the old way of operating. 

At the same time, it is important to be mindful that whatever actions organizations take to help employees migrate back to the “new normal”, these new arrangements will need to be tested and may need further adjustments down the road.

For example, let’s say an organization allows two employees to share in-person office time with employee A working on-site M-W-F during one week, and employee B working T-TH that same week. The following week they swap schedules to make days in the office even. Maybe, over time, this schedule works great for the employees. But what if it comes to their manager’s attention that it’s not working for customers? At that point, an adjustment would need to be made. I think we’ll see a lot of this as we return to work.

In the final analysis, the past 12 months has shown that working remotely, while not perfect for every employee in every occupation, definitely has its advantages to employees, their customers, and the organization. We have confirmation that such a model can be effective for all concerned. As such, organizations will need to find that ideal balance between delivering their services and products as expected, while offering this new and proven level of remote work flexibility to its employees. 

Today's post is submitted by Joyce Maroney, executive director of the Workforce Institute. When employees can't get enough summer time, they'll find it on their own.

We've often written about the divide between the kinds of flexibility benefits that are offered to workers in jobs that can be done on a laptop (marketer, software designer, analyst) vs. those that can't (home health aides, EMTs, retail workers). The former can work from home or lakeside when the long days of summer lead to early dismissals and long weekends. The latter have to show up. All of them need the flexibility to balance their responsibilities inside and outside of work, but as our board member John Hollon has written, those whose jobs require presence generally don't enjoy the same level of flexibility as their office worker peers.

Another of our favorite topics is what it takes to build a culture of trust. Our board member Sharlyn Lauby wrote about this recently. Not because it's nice to do. But because trust leads to all kinds of other desirable organizational outcomes: better collaboration between colleagues, lower turnover, better customer service, etc.

I bring up these topics of trust and flexibility because over and over we see how intertwined they are for workers, especially those on the frontlines. The good news for frontline workers is that their leverage with their employers is growing.

This chart represents the most current JOLT (job openings and labor turnover) from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of June, there were 0.8 workers available per job opening; i.e. there are more job openings than workers available to fill them. In fact, there has been less than one job seeker per job opening since March of 2018.

And who are these hard to find candidates? Some are the lucky ones who'll be able to work from home or a vacation spot during the dog days of August. Many though, according the analysis below from the Economic Policy Institute, are in those jobs requiring presence: hospitality, food service, healthcare, government, etc.

Astute employers know they should focus on results and not face time for those lucky employees with laptop jobs. While some may not have received that memo yet, more and more see flexible work options as a strategic benefit. With unemployment remaining at record lows, this more open minded and democratic appreciation of flexibility is finding it's way to the frontline as well.

If you are interested in extending more flexibility to our workers, here are a list of strategies we've compiled over time to help managers help their frontline workers have schedules that will work for them:

How are you ensuring that summer time absences don't sink your productivity?

Today's post comes to us from board member David Creelman. Here, he considers whether employers need to plan for employee absenteeism due to alien invasions.

The Workforce Institute at Kronos has done many studies on absenteeism due to the Superbowl; what’s next may be studies on absenteeism due to alien invasions. The invasion in question is not happening in the physical world, but in a virtual world call Eve Online. This virtual world, now just over 15 years old, is set in outer space and has a population of several hundred thousand players.

What has happened is that, quite out-of-the-blue, a massive attack by previously unknown aliens is destroying the ships and star-bases human players have built.

So, why should an online alien attack matter to HR leaders? Because, employees who are players may be under pressure to skip work to repel the attack for the following reasons:

This may all seem a bit silly or unreal. In fact, it’s an indication of how online worlds are becoming an important adjunct to the physical world. What happens in virtual outer space matters now, and it’s going to matter even more in the future.

So, what should HR’s policy be towards employees who want to take emergency leave to deal with the attack? 

I recommend being sympathetic to employees who need to take time off to deal with the invasion. I’d also take the invasion as a clear warning sign that virtual worlds matter; they will be a place to seek new employees, a place to get references and judge performance; and a competitor for the time and attention of talent professionals.

We might say that the alien invasion isn’t real, but in more ways than not it is for the hundreds of thousands of players of this online game.

How many of you are scratching your heads over this post? I'd ask you to consider the many ways in which virtual technology is showing up in the workplace - for training, for assisting others who are remote, for designing new products. If some of your employees achieve their work life balance in a virtual world, is that really so surprising?

There has been a lot of noise in the news lately about companies like IBM pulling back on flexible work options.  This is an ironic move for IBM given that their own research and publications suggest that "teleworkers are more highly engaged, more likely to consider their workplaces as innovative, happier about their job prospects and less stressed than their more traditional, office-bound colleagues."  Leaders in the companies who are pulling back on remote work options are arguing that presence is required for productive collaboration and innovation.

Perhaps some of these leaders should talk to Kristen Wylie, Director of Product Marketing at Kronos.  Kristen spent 8 months on the road with her 9 and 13 year old daughters over the past year while they performed in the national touring company of the musical Annie.  That would be daunting enough for any parent, but Kristen did this while continuing to do her full time job at Kronos.  In fact, Kristen was promoted to director while she was on the road.

I spoke to Kristen recently about her experience exercising this "extreme flexibility".   With the support of her boss and her team, Kristen spent eight months juggling a demanding job and supporting her daughters’ life on the road.  We talked about how she pulled it off and what lessons other organizations and employees might learn from Kristen’s story.

Listen in by clicking on the player at the bottom of this post to hear Kristen's responses to these and other questions about how she did it:

  1. What went through your head when you learned your daughters had been cast in Annie regarding your position at Kronos?
  2. How did you work it out with your manager to do your job from the road? Was he supportive or did you need to sell this idea?
  3. You were touring with a theater company – which operates on very different hours than a normal work environment. Where there changes you made in how you got certain things done given the crazy schedule?
  4. How did you take care of your children and yourself while under this pressure?  It seems like there wasn’t much downtime for any of you.
  5. You manage other people. How did they feel about working under these circumstances and what did you do to make this arrangement work for them?
  6. During the time you were touring with your daughters, you got promoted. Beyond the obvious insight that you do a great job for Kronos, do you think your ability to juggle as you did helped make this happen?
  7. A lot of working parents hearing your story will think “that could never happen at my organization”. What would you tell a working parent who’d like to have greater flexibility at work how to broach that topic and sell it as a benefit to their organization?

How does your organization support flexible work options?  Can you see a story like Kristen's happening in your workplace?

On May 3, our board member Corporate Voices for Working Families, in collaboration with Working Mother Magazine, announced the 2011 Best Companies for Hourly Workers Award. These brand name companies engage and invest in their hourly employees through strategies including tuition reimbursement, flexibility, health insurance and child-care help.  You can read more about the winning companies in this blog post by Yvonne Siu, Manager of  Communications & Government Relations at Corporate Voices.

Corporate Voices' mission is all about helping organizations deploy employee- friendly policies that contribute to business success  - particularly among lower income hourly employees.  A  new research study from Corporate Voices for Working Families highlights the fact that employers that deeply engage in helping younger low-income employees continue their education, both by expanding workplace flexibility and other direct support for working students, can make significant contributions to positive outcomes for their young employees while meeting business needs.

“Our research report doesn’t paint a picture of unmotivated youth,” Donna Klein, Executive Chair and CEO of Corporate Voices, said. “Rather, it paints a picture of young people who have impossibly difficult choices to make, choices between short-term survival and long-term earning potential. The key to helping them resolve that conflict is an evolved company culture that understands the critical role it plays in building the workforce on the future.”

The study concludes that from an employer’s perspective, certain consistent  attributes of young, low-income employees stand out:

•    Young low-income employees have to work.
•    Young low-income employees who stay in school are more likely to complete school.
•    The work and school schedules of young low-income employees can conflict with one another.
•    Young low-income employees are more likely to stay in school if their employers offer workplace flexibility policies.

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