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Workplace Flexibility in a Post-COVID World

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 ”œnew 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 ”œworking remotely appears to be largely successful” as shown by the following data:

  • 90% report a positive impact or no change in productivity;
  • 75% report positive impact or no change on work-life balance; and
  • 76% report positive impact or no change on communication and collaboration.

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 ”œnew 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. 

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