Before COVID-19, how many people did you know who worked from home at least one day a week? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 3.2% of Arkansans worked from home in 2016; however, necessity is the mother of invention. A Gallup poll in March of this year showed that over 60% of employees had worked from home during the COVID-19 crisis. The times are changing indeed.
If you have followed the news around working from home (WFH), it would appear that this drastic change in where people work is here to stay. Microsoft recently announced that “for most roles, we view working from home part of the time (less than 50%) as now standard – assuming manager and team alignment.” Hitachi has committed to having 70% of its employees work from home permanently. Working from home appears to be with us for a while, at least until a vaccine is broadly available. So how do we make the best of it?
Understand its benefits
For some employers, this shift to remote work may seem to be too much, too soon. They may feel that working from home does not mean employees are working remotely - it means their employees are remotely working. However, working from home does have the potential for increased worker productivity. Stanford Economist Nicholas Bloom conducted a study in 2013 to try to quantify the impact of working from home. He created two groups in a large Chinese call center – a WFH group and a control group that remained in the office. After nine months, the WFH group showed a 13% performance increase. They worked more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days), performed more calls per minute than the control group, and their attrition rate was half of that of the control group.
Employees need clear direction as to what is expected when they work from home, but the expectations may vary between companies and employees. Do you expect each employee to be logged in and in front of their computers between 8 and 5, or will you allow them to spread out their 8 hours throughout the day? There may not necessarily be a right answer to this question. Each business is different, and each worker is different as well.
The WFH lifestyle is new for everyone. Employers should be “rigidly flexible,” taking each individual’s work style into account, measuring and adjusting as needed to get the job done.
Use technology to your advantage
One of the hesitations for many employers is the inability to measure employee productivity in a WFH environment. Technology is readily available to provide the metrics needed to manage your employees. Options range from logging keystrokes to seeing what websites are visited, tracking file transfers, recording calls and taking real time video recordings of the employee’s computer. Although these solutions may sound a bit “Big Brother,” as an employer, you must remember you are not only tracking employee productivity, but keeping your company secure as well. In the WFH environment, your data is being used outside of your organization, and you are responsible for it.