Across the country, employers are defining return to work protocols and policies. Let’s consider letting the workforce decide.
Industry leaders, in a complete about face, are advising employees that telework is a privilege, and it negatively impacts the corporate culture.
One leader, in opining on virtual work, even stated “Over time, this drawback could dramatically undermine the character and culture [of the company.]”
Historically, telework was considered a privilege. You had to ask your boss, or your company, if you could do it, and if they did allow it, it was often accompanied by a stern advisement that this was not something you should expect or get used to.
Many organizations, large and small, were convinced that if they allowed their workforce to telework, productivity would plummet, and the workforce couldn’t be counted on to actually work unless they were under the watchful eye of a supervisor or manager.
But as we move beyond the horrors of the COVID 19 pandemic, it’s abundantly clear that there are many jobs can be done from home, without any loss of productivity, and that the freedom of working from home – less commuting time, less transportation costs, and a lesser wardrobe investment – have demonstrated, in my experience, that the majority of employees are very appreciative of the freedom that telework creates, and have become harder workers – often working longer hours, to ensure that workforce production goals are met.
So why should employees return to work?
The social aspects of corporate culture.
Humans are social, herd animals. We like, and need, to interact with others. The effects of long-term isolation are just beginning to evolve.
The blurred lines between home life and work life.
It’s 7:00am. You’ve had your coffee. Since you didn’t have to commute to work, you think, “I’ll just go ahead and sign-in and start working.”
It’s 11:00am. The dog needs to go out. If you have children at home, maybe they have homework they need help with, or they need to go out! But you have an important meeting you can’t miss.
It’s 7:00pm. You forgot one email you meant to send before the end of the day. Even though you logged out at 5:00 (or whatever quitting time is), you log back in, compose and send the email, then log off again.
It’s 3:30pm. You’re still in your pajamas and you can’t remember the last time you washed your hair. Seriously??
Anyway, it’s a challenge to balance a work life and a home life when they both happen in the same place.
Privacy and Security concerns of teleworking.
Home networks aren’t usually as secure as work networks. It’s more like they are rarely as secure as work networks, but I’m being gentle.
Employees often download corporate owned PDF’s, emails, etc. on their home computers, without any kind of partitioning (separation) or monitoring.
BYOB devices have proliferated during the pandemic. Personal phone numbers have become “work” numbers, home printers are cranking out work documents (unsecured) and work emails are going back and forth on personal devices (without VPN’s turned on).
Digital v In Person communication challenges.
Zoom fatigue anyone? It used to be that if there were too many back and forth emails and little to no solutions forthcoming, you could walk down the hall, or go to another floor, grab a conference room and have a quick brainstorming session to resolve a problem.
Even though there’s no “tone” in email, mis-understandings are common in digital communications. Inflection, facial expressions and context are impossible to convey in digital formats.
Why can’t employees stay at home? What’s the value of returning to work?
It benefits the environment.
It almost seems environmentally irresponsible to have a mass recall of employees back into the office. If you haven’t seen the data on CO2 emissions (significantly reduced during the pandemic), you may have been on a Mars flight. We reduce our carbon footprint when we telework. Period.
The stress of getting to and from work.
Road rage is real.
Traffic jams and long commute times increase stress.
Commute times are unproductive, both from a work and a home perspective. A one hour commute each way translates to a whopping 520 hours per year in unproductive time! Sure, you can listen to podcasts and audio books in the car, but that sometimes makes me sleepy, so I generally don’t do that. There’s a reason you shouldn’t be on the phone while you are driving – you are distracted. Texting? Email? NO WAY while driving. And voice to text can generate some hilarious, but still unproductive conversations.
It’s cost effective.
Employers could spend less on the physical costs of office space, transit subsidies, costs for utilities, etc. With teleworking, our needs for physical spaces can be reduced. (see It benefits the environment).
As employers are contemplating return-to work, one thing seems to be missing.
Return to Work? Why can’t the workforce decide?
It’s time to let go of that attitude too many employers have that “if I can’t physically see you, you must not be working”. The pandemic has proven that this just isn’t true. In fact, it seems that the research shows the opposite. People at home are just as productive, if not more, than when they came into the office.
If you have a workforce with remote capabilities – ask them what they want to do.
Some will want to stay home permanently, some will want a hybrid solution, and some will want to come back to the office full time.
There is a real opportunity for employers to design a 21st century solution to the future of work. So many organizations talk about employee friendly environments, concern for the workforce, reducing environmental footprints…for once, they should actually DO what they talk about.
Design solutions that support the triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profits® (Wikipedia, 2021)
Saaby Consulting provides Technology Solutions for Life®.