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What Employers Need to Give Their Remote Employees

At the top of the list: Trust

Published: Monday, September 27, 2021 - 12:03

Like it or not, work-from-home (WFH) is here to stay. This is not just a perk that employers might offer, but a requirement on which many employees, current and future, are demanding. According to several surveys, between 30 and 50 percent of employees surveyed said they would leave their jobs if they could not work remotely.

This pushback against return-to-work has left employers, those who were planning on full return-to-work for their employees, to quickly pivot and reconsider at least hybrid work for their workforce. Fortunately, several studies and employers’ own experience has shown that productivity has not flagged during the past year, and in many cases has soared. Coupled with the ability to get rid of expensive office space and its overhead, even those employers who were at first reluctant can feel a bit more confident with some amount of work-from-home.

But what will this look like as companies switch from “no choice” to “now we’ve got options” when it comes to remote work? According to Mike Morini, CEO of WorkForce Software, “As we transition back to the office, companies must consider how they can support their employees in the new modern workplace, including those they haven’t met yet, and create hybrid work success.”

But even if employees want a remote or hybrid work experience, are they or their employers really prepared for it? For those who have been doing it, they’ve already started putting the pieces together, at least the IT part of it. But what about the cultural aspect of WFH? Or the legal issues?

We asked Morini to tell us.

Quality Digest: What are the biggest problems facing employers as people return to work?

Mike Morini: Even though most people are ready for things to get back to normal, in workplaces around the world that doesn’t mean as they were, and we are already seeing signs that the transition will have its challenges. Remote work and physical distancing have created attitudinal changes at all levels within organizations, and there are noticeable shifts in co-workers’ ability to communicate and collaborate with one another. Teams haven’t had the ability to connect and discuss ideas in person, and we know that electronic communication platforms can’t replicate interactions that took place regularly when people saw each other in person.

In addition, people’s sense of belonging and connection to their working teams have also been diminished. As companies move forward to a hybrid work environment, they must take the time to help employees strengthen their connection—their ability to communicate and provide feedback. These skills are essential for productivity and performance, especially when we expect more hybrid and remote teamwork to be here to stay. Companies will need to provide a psychologically healthy work environment and prioritize employees as they consider the future needs of the business and its customers.

QD: How should companies respond to that? What tools are available to make that easier?

MM: As companies start heading back to the office in the coming months, it is critical that they make appropriate investments in technology that leverage data to make it easier to capture employee feedback frequently, detect when there is a potential problem with an employee, and enable managers to take action. This will not only have a significant impact on employees’ experience—show them that they are valued and cared for, and ensure their needs are being met—but will also ultimately increase productivity in all areas of a business.

According to a survey produced by WorkForce Software and co-sponsored by SAPinsider, IMB, and eightfold.ai, 59 percent of respondents are investing in technology to improve worker productivity, and nearly 50 percent of the respondents are adding or improving employee feedback and surveys to be able to better react in the moment to increase employee satisfaction. However, even though there is a need for software solutions, only about one-third (35%) of respondents are currently using or implementing workforce management solutions, although more than half are either planning to implement workforce management during the next 24 months or are aware of the need for this type of technology. Overall, workforce management technology has a direct, positive impact on employees’ day-to-day work experience, increasing employee retention, and helping businesses gain a competitive edge.

QD: Some states require that employees keep scrupulous records of hours worked for hourly employees. How do companies deal with that for WFH employees?

MM: Many human resources professionals will tell you that one of the most difficult challenges employers face is keeping pace with the constant changes taking place in different areas of employment law. These changes include new and amended laws, confusing court decisions, and complicated government agency opinions.

Despite the difficulties caused by legal changes, it’s important for employers to stay focused and to understand that there are certain basic employment law issues they will run into just about every year—like leaves of absence, wage and hour requirements, discrimination (including harassment), and employee scheduling.

For all employees, including WFH, companies that invest in modern technology can remain compliant and generate up-to-the minute visibility and reporting on hours worked for WFH employees and deskless workers. Navigating compliance is crucial for an agile business to remain competitive.

QD: It sounds a bit like you are suggesting some sort of remote monitoring that is installed on remote workers’ computers, something that most remote workers are pretty opposed to (not to mention some legal issues that would have to be carefully navigated). Is remote monitoring something companies should consider, and if so, how do they address the Big Brother aspect of it with their employees?

MM: Giving employees the flexibility to leave their computer for an hour or two so that they can return refreshed or at a more convenient time is an essential way to build trust. Doing so increases the need for better communication between managers and their teams to ensure that they know what people are working on and what has been accomplished. In many ways, this can be more effective approach than remote monitoring, which puts the emphasis on hours worked over accomplishments. When used well, modern technology can provide managers with the ability to have real-time updates on employees’ well-being and whether they are working too much overtime.

For instance, fatigue management systems remotely monitor hours worked, tasks performed, breaks taken, and time off scheduled to flag employees who may be at risk of becoming fatigued and burned out. With this type of technology, managers are able to monitor employees in ways that are beneficial to both the employee and the company, and allow businesses to take immediate action to help where needed.

QD: Do we need, perhaps, to redefine what we expect from employees... is it hours actually spent working, or is it completion of tasks?

MM: With the way people are working today, it is essential that company leaders redefine their expectations from remote employees. Many are juggling multiple responsibilities while being at home, especially if they are parents caring for their children, where there are continued disruptions following last year’s major impacts. For me, personally, as long as my employees are getting their work and main tasks done in a manner that meets our customer and business needs, then that’s all that matters. Many companies have realized that the traditional nine to five no longer needs to be a barrier in our technology-enabled world, and that employees can be productive no matter their location. It’s important that employers give their employees leeway when it comes to creating a schedule that supports the business and avoids burnout and fatigue. In return, employees will feel trusted, appreciated, and like they are a partner in contributing to the success of the business.

QD: You mention burnout. There is some evidence that as much as employees like working from home, they may be working more hours than usual. How should employers help employees establish work/life balance?

MM:
Offer helpful perks. Organizations need to continue doing everything they can to support their employees and offer benefits that truly make a difference. Health and wellness benefits are key right now. Companies should consider implementing wellness programs that allow employees to take advantage of stress-relieving offerings such as exercise, yoga, meditation, and personal health coaching. Other perks can be showing appreciation for your employees by offering an extra day off or relief from endless meetings.

Some of the strategies we’ve implemented at WorkForce Software to support our employees include fitness reimbursements for equipment and gym memberships, unlimited vacation, flextime to take care of families, and a story-time program for families. Not only will offering beneficial perks help your employees unwind from a stressful day, but it will also allow them to prioritize themselves and then be able to return to their jobs and responsibilities with a better mindset, and ultimately boost their satisfaction and productivity.

Adopt new HR technology tools. Workforce management systems have played a big role in supporting employee safety, well-being, and work/life balance during the pandemic. These extra programs and benefits, automated with a workforce management system, can go a long way toward showing workers that they are valued and cared for during this time. For instance, fatigue management systems monitor hours worked, tasks performed, breaks taken, and time off scheduled to flag employees that may be at risk of becoming fatigued and burned out. Other systems provide pulse check and manage in-the-moment notifications to help you stay informed on potential employee wellness issues, specifically when employees are working overtime. Time and attendance systems are also being used to support employee well-being by paying out incentives like a bonus or a free lunch to employees who physically come to work seven working days in a row or by supporting time-off balance donations to co-workers who need to take mandated quarantine after exposure to Covid-19.

Encourage employees to take time off. With remote work remaining for a couple more months for some companies before they switch over to a hybrid model, or remaining indefinitely for others, the lines between personal and work lives still continue to be blurred. Even though employees have guaranteed paid time off, many are resisting using their time because of travel restrictions. However, it is so important for employers to understand that employees stepping away can increase their productivity in the long run. Encouraging this, and setting the example at the management level, is critically important to employees using their time off and completely unplugging in order to recharge. When employees do take time off, allow for it to be completely uninterrupted. If someone is on vacation, avoid reaching out to him or her with work-related tasks. This will allow them to come back more refreshed and productive, which will lead to higher levels of employee satisfaction and better business outcomes.

QD: A big issue for some managers is the inability to look over the shoulders of their remote workers. This inability requires a lot more trust from managers over what their employees are doing. How do we help managers feel more comfortable and trust the output of their direct reports?

MM: With the future of work being fully remote or a hybrid arrangement, trust is highly important between managers and their workers. It’s critical that leaders understand the role that trust plays in their own success as well as their employees’. In order to create this, it’s important that employers stay in contact with their team during the workday, to make sure that they know what their employees are working on; recognize accomplishments more regularly; and determine if employees are experiencing any issues with work-life balance, challenges with managing increased work, or separating from work. This will help managers at all levels come up with different strategies for supporting employees to get work done and to create more options to prevent burnout in the short and long term.

Employers also need to take the initiative to find out how employees are really feeling. Conduct regular check-ins to gauge the team’s happiness levels and overall state of being, and be ready to support quick interventions for preventing any negative mental health outcomes or low productivity. This level of connection will show employees that executives genuinely care about their well-being, and it will help retain top-tier talent. By prioritizing trust through these different forms, employers will help teams function at high levels as workers see that their experience matters to management and the company. This will help employee loyalty to flourish, and the entire organization will benefit from it.

References
1. Shelburne, Peyton. “Tracking the Return to Normal: Work & Offices.” Morning Consult, Aug. 25, 2021.
2. Woolf, Max. “Is Remote Work Here to Stay? [2021 Study].” LiveCareer, Jan. 04, 2021.
3. Maria Barrero, Jose; Bloom, Nicholas; Davis, Steven. “Let me work from home, or I will find another job.” VoxEU.org. July 27, 2021.

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About The Author

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest’s picture

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest’s editor in chief.