The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to take a long, hard look at some things we used to take for granted. Over the past year, we’ve explored the wide world of masks, found a new appreciation for our wonderful public school teachers, and learned about the true value of toilet paper.
We’ve also learned that for many small businesses, we can complete our daily work activities quite efficiently, even when the entire team is working from home. While the coronavirus didn’t start the shift to remote work, it certainly sped things up. Only 3.2% of the American workforce worked from home in 2018, compared to 42% in 2020!
This dramatic and rapid shift is forcing employers to consider their own policies. Are you keeping an office because it’s useful, or because it’s the way things have always been done? When it’s safe to gather again, will it be time to let the office space go?
Is Work-From-Home Working?
Before considering ditching the office permanently, you have to consider the way the change has affected your business. Is your team more productive, or less?
According to research by Global Workplace Analytics in the late 2000s, businesses are losing $600 billion annually due to workplace distractions. That same study says that many companies like Best Buy and Dow Chemical report that remote workers are 35-40% more productive than on-site workers.
With meetings moved to video conferencing platforms like Zoom, they are less likely to get off topic and drag on unnecessarily. And with no commuting time, some employees are actually spending more hours at their desks, getting more done.
Of course, all this productivity depends on the nature of your work and your company culture. In a highly collaborative workplace — the type where employees are encouraged to bounce new ideas off of each other and innovate as a team — an increase in “productivity” could come at the cost of creativity.
What Does the Team Want?
Here’s a sobering statistic — 29% of working professionals say they would quit their jobs if they couldn’t keep working remotely. Can you afford to lose nearly a third of your workforce by making everyone return to the office when it’s safe to do so?
Still, working from home can be difficult for some employees — especially those with distracting roommates or small children at home. People who live alone, too, may prefer the social aspects of working at the office. And some just feel like they need to be in an office setting to keep them accountable.
If you’re trying to figure out your team’s preferences, why not ask them? Create an online survey for everyone to fill out, so you can better understand where your people are coming from. Depending on your workforce, industry, location, and office culture, you may find that many of your employees would prefer to go to the office every day — or at least a few days per week.
Is There a Happy Medium?
Perhaps the solution is somewhere in between full-time work at the office and full-time remote work. A flexible working environment allows employees to make their own decisions about where they’ll work, as long as they continue to perform their jobs well and are capable of completing their tasks from home.
This type of arrangement means companies can maintain a smaller office space for those employees who prefer to work onsite (plus a conference room for important meetings.) You could also set up a “co-working space” within the office, so remote workers would have a table to sit at if they needed or wished to work from the office for the day. With less space needed for offices or cubicles, you could significantly downsize your square footage without erasing your company’s office presence.
Flex working also creates an opportunity for people to work at disparate hours. You may prefer that everyone on the team clock in at 9:00am and clock out at 5:00pm. But another option could be to have specific “all hands” hours, and let the employees decide when they’ll complete the rest of their work time.
For example, you could require all employees to be at their desks between 10:00am and 3:00pm, but the early worms could start at 7:00am and finish at 3:00pm, while the late risers start at 10:00am and finish at 6:00pm. Not only does this address the needs and preferences of your current team, but it’s also an attractive work environment for potential new hires.
If you do shift away from a full-time office model, try to integrate some team-building activities into the work week or month, so your employees still get some face time with you and their coworkers.
The Future of Office Work
We’re living (and working) at an unprecedented time in the corporate world. For the first time, location is no barrier to an office job. A transition that could have taken a decade or more has been sped up by necessity due to the pandemic.
It will be fascinating to see what office work looks like in the years to come!