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Should Businesses Let Employees Work from Home Permanently?

by Ruthy Hope
Employee Works from Home

Let’s take a moment to reflect, shall we? Now that you’ve dragged yourself through nine circles of professional and personal adversity since the dawn of March 2020, it’s time to take stock. It’s been, as they say, a rough one. But at the same time, this period has illuminated the limitations of our traditional business practices. And workers everywhere took notice. For example, one of the most dramatic shifts for employees concerned not just where they worked, but how they felt about their workday. Suddenly people had a lot more time to spend with their children. They had a moment to take Chewie for a stroll. Instead of endless hours in their cubicles, they made room for sunshine and exercise. In place of convenient and often unhealthy choices, they dined on feta-flecked avocado toast from their own kitchens.

Crossing the commute off schedules meant that people had more time for, well, anything they wanted. And many people were delighted by this transition. Job satisfaction levels increased because remote employees were less stressed out about work. So, taking all that into account, should businesses let employees work from home permanently?

Word on the Street

There’s no question that the concept of a largely remote workforce is catching on. Some notables in all sorts of industries are now allowing their employees to work remotely on a permanent basis. These organizations have realized that if an employee’s physical presence isn’t truly essential, working from home can actually benefit everyone. And employees have had their say as well by making their preferences clear. In a recent survey of 2000 remote employees nearly half said that “a company’s remote work policy is now their number-one desired workplace attribute” with three-quarters of them indicating “they wouldn’t even consider working for a company that didn’t offer flexible work-from-home policies.” That’s a lot to absorb, so let’s go deeper.

Leading the Pack

Some of the world’s biggest players are keeping their workers home for good. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Twitter was one of the first to transition to a permanent remote workforce model. Eight months into the pandemic, they announced that any worker who wants to can remain home “forever”.
  • In order to cut real estate costs following significant losses during the pandemic, Rite Aid announced in September 2021 that more than 2800 employees would remain remote workers. An employee survey indicated that 80% of their workforce preferred it that way.
  • Despite intentions to return to mostly in-person work at the beginning of the new year, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy decided in October 2021 to leave the decision up to team leaders, with the expectation that most eligible workers would remain remote.
  • Online real estate marketplace Zillow spun a new phrase into our lexicon when they announced in September 2021 that they’re “de-emphasizing location” permitting their employees to work from anywhere in the US and Canada.
  • An October 2021 announcement from ultra-conservative accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers explained the reason for allowing 40,000 employees to work from home by saying they wanted “to continue to put flexibility and well-being benefits at the center, and expand the pool of people we attract and recruit…”.

The Pros

Even the most benevolent employers have to look at their bottom line numbers whenever they consider large-scale transformations. Therefore, we need to examine why some companies are welcoming a move in this direction.

  • Less distractions: When employees work in an office, it’s much easier for a coworker to stop by for some idle chat. That gets virtually eliminated with remote work leaving more time for employees to focus on assignments.
  • Time-saver: The aforementioned commute is gone. Employees arrive to work on time and rested every day, since they are feet from their offices and get more sleep in the mornings. The added bonus is that it’s better for the environment with less vehicles consuming fossil fuels and polluting the air we breathe.
  • Cost Cutter: Rite Aid’s wise maneuvers underscore how remote work saves money on office supplies and office space.
  • Productivity Surges: 55% of respondents to a recent Flexjobs survey experienced increased productivity.

The Cons

  • Interruptions: Just as there are less workplace distractions, many people felt that remote work had its own unwelcome intrusions. Whether it was children, pets, or even their partner, being so accessible was occasionally problematic. It is, of course, up to the employees to find quiet work environments and doors with sturdy locks.
  • Separation Anxiety: As mentioned earlier, not having coworkers around can be an asset, but one casualty may be less collaboration. This can also erode the fabled office culture. Employers should bolster a sense of community during online meetings, teamwork, and virtual check-ins.
  • Vigilance: Lack of employee oversight is a concern for some employers. One way to mitigate this is through a solid time tracking system that provides the peace of mind managers need. Explore your options and find one that works for you.
  • Accolades: Several arguments against remote work have emerged over the past year suggesting that workplace advancement and promotions would be impacted. There are valid concerns that less visibility equals less recognition. A study by Harvard Business Review shows that this is a real possibility. Therefore, it is up to the employers to make sure they continue to observe employee contributions and reward accordingly.

The Homestretch

This unanticipated era is necessitating bold transformations in the business world. Whether the changes are societal, technological, or political, businesses must always adapt. They are free to celebrate the wins, but are equally obligated to contend with the flaws. Now is the time to take a good hard look at your company and consider implementing modifications that will serve everyone. Study after study confirms that keeping your workforce at home is both a business boon as well as a coveted perk to lure talented new hires. Many industry leaders have already bought a ticket for this ride demonstrating that the “new normal” is just normal at this point. As businessman Jack Welch famously advised, change before you have to.

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