More than half the people who work from home now want to keep it that way. But really – can we work from home forever?
Despite employees’ desire to stay put some or all of the time, the hard truth is it can’t be the reality forever.
HR professionals will need to continue to navigate remote work situations, prepare for a return to work in the near future and plan for the days when everyone is on site again.
“Working remotely is now extremely common, though under very challenging conditions,” says Stanford Economist and Researcher Nicholas Bloom. “Of the dozens of firms I have talked to, the typical plan is that employees will work from home one to three days a week, and come into the office the rest of the time.”
Even Bloom, who has researched work from home extensively, argued people need to be in the workplaces at least some of the time.
Here’s why researchers say we can’t work from home forever, and tips to alleviate the issues until we’re settled back on-site.
We aren’t as productive
Just half of employees who’ve worked from home since the pandemic started are at least 80% efficient as they were on-site, the Stanford study found.
Many leaders have found employees were originally more productive at home. But as time has worn on, employees were significantly less productive on Mondays and Fridays.
To help now: Encourage front line managers to meet weekly with employees. They can set goals and decide on the strategies to stay the course for the week.
We aren’t technically equipped
One-third of employees said they don’t have the internet capacity to handle video calls, the Stanford researchers found. Others don’t have the level of technology they had on-site.
To help now: Do what you can to help employees get the internet capability they need. Or you might try this lower-tech solution. Schedule meetings very early or late in the day when other people in employees’ homes aren’t taxing the internet, too!
We don’t have the space
More than half of the people working from home share workspace. Spouses, roommates and kids in virtual school crowd them in.
That’s not comfortable or sustainable.
To help now: Send employees regular tips on ergonomics best practices for working from home. And assess employees’ situations. For instance, if someone is working from a bed, can you supply her with a desk?
The equality gap widens
Working from home “is generating a time bomb for inequality,” Bloom says. “Our results show that more educated, higher-earning employees are far more likely to work from home. So they are continuing to get paid, develop their skills and advance their careers. At the same time, those unable to work from home – either because of the nature of their jobs, or because they lack suitable space or internet connections – are being left behind.”
Workplaces are diverse. Homes aren’t so much. So the diversity gap widens, too. People aren’t as exposed to diverse ideas and colleagues.
To help now: It’s important for managers to keep their teams and cross departmental teams in touch. They need to regularly hear and share different views. In the meantime, HR pros want to continue and adjust diversity and inclusion plans for the work from home situation.
Many employees aren’t just isolated from the office. They don’t see or interact with family and friends. Many people working from home are lonelier than ever. That seriously affects their morale and productivity, which hurts businesses further.
To help now: Zoom happy hours can’t completely replace real-time, in-person interaction. Try to create opportunities for employees who face similar circumstances to connect and share stories and best practices. For instance, you might create group meetings for working parents with kids in virtual school or Millennials living alone.
The longer employees stay out of the workplace, the longer they feel trapped in unpredictable circumstances. They don’t know how long and to what degree work will infringe on their lives and lifestyle. Moving quickly to the work-from-home, and now working from home indefinitely, will continue to make employees anxious, according to Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzik, an authority in leadership assessment, people analytics, and talent management.
To help now: Normalize your operations as much as possible. While some employees need flexibility, many are more comfortable with the schedule and demand similar to what they had on-site. Also, keep employees updated on your return-to-work plans so they can prepare for the new – or return to – predictability.
This could be the most surprising HR/COVID-19-related research we’ve seen: Employees are more suspicious now. Many are more prone to conspiracy theories than ever before, Harvard Business School researchers found.
Why? People have less control over their lives – where they work, the places they go, the people they see and the routines they like. When they lose control, they look for any kind of pattern – even if it’s ludicrous. For instance, an employee might believe he’ll be fired because his boss ignored him for two days. Meanwhile, the boss was just busy with Zoom meetings – something the employee couldn’t see.
To help now: Managers need to be more transparent than ever. Update employees on company, department and colleague news regularly. Ask if they’ve heard rumors and dispel what you can.
We’re burned out
HR leaders shouldn’t be surprise that employees who feel isolated, stressed and suspicious will become burned out. Gallup researchers recently found employees who work from home are more burned out than those who work on-site. Prior to the pandemic, the opposite held true: Remote employees faced less stress.
Why now? Researchers say there’s a difference between choosing to work from home and being forced to work from home. When people had flexibility and autonomy to go to the office, they didn’t feel “trapped” at home.
To help now: Many companies asked for volunteers to be the first on-site again and to test their COVID-19 safety protocols. Other managers set staggered schedules so fewer employees work on-site at any given time. Try a hybrid plan so employees who need to get away from home to avoid burnout can.