The COVID-19 pandemic upended everyone’s lives. Many companies had to scramble to set up work from home (WFH) arrangements for employees. Yet, what may have started as a struggle, for some ended up as a blessing in disguise. Managers found that team members who didn’t have to worry about long commutes or distractions at the office were more productive in the new normal.
Those companies that have embraced a WFH culture may even want it to be a permanent feature, either as a standard practice or as an option for workers. But setting up a quick fix to manage social distancing requirements is different from creating a WFH arrangement for the long term. If your company is considering a permanent move to working from home, you should consider whether it’s truly a good fit for you.
To determine whether your company is really ready, create a committee consisting of members of various teams throughout your organization. Bring them together to consider the following questions. If you can answer “yes” to most of them, you should be in a good position to make your temporary WFH arrangement permanent.
Does a significant part of your workforce want to work from home?
In a recent SurveyMonkey and Zoom poll, most workers (65%) said their ideal work scenario is to work both from home and at the office. About half of those people would prefer to work mostly from home. About 15% (outside of the 65%) said they’d like to work fully from home. That’s about 80% of workers who would like to work from home at least some of the time – a big majority.
Of course, it’s helpful to have such information to help you understand how people generally feel about working from home post-pandemic. But there are differences among workers in various fields and age groups. The best way to know how your employees view the matter is to ask them.
Depending on how large your company is, you can create your own poll or interview workers individually. Ask them how the WFH arrangement has been working for them, whether they want to stick with it, and what they would change about it if they could.
Did you iron out any major challenges?
Certainly, companies that embraced working from home for the first time in 2020 had some adjustments to make. For example, when employees worked in the office, it was obvious whether they were there or not and teams often measured productivity by how much time they spent at their desks. But, with WFH, many managers learned that productivity can be better measured in work produced.
Another challenge was the distractions WFH team members faced at home, especially if others in the household were also required to work or learn from there. Employees may have had to establish new boundaries and schedules so they could be available when needed. Employers may have had to exercise patience and offer coaching or tools to help.
Workers who once may have used the office environment to have impromptu face-to-face meetings may have been hesitant to use remote work tools to do the same, thinking they might be bothering managers whose status they couldn’t directly see. Creating “office hours” or using the presence feature of some applications helped resolve this issue.
If your company was able to work through the many challenges with an emergency WFH arrangement, it’s likely it will be able to meet the trials of a permanent one.
Did you identify ways in which WFH made your company stronger?
Even if the emergency WFH arrangement was a challenge during 2020, it may have made your company stronger. If so, that’s a good indication that continuing such an arrangement would be a smart move. One way in which your company may have become stronger was by learning new ways to communicate. Perhaps a messaging application like Slack helped streamline conversations and reduce the need for meetings.
Other ways in which your company may have improved because of a WFH arrangement include better punctuality from those who could never quite seem to make it to that 9:00 AM planning meeting, better self-care for employees who could use former commute time to exercise, and higher job satisfaction for people who enjoy being at home with family members and pets.
The following video describes more reasons why working from home is good for business:
Are you prepared to develop a WFH infrastructure?
Perhaps you’ve been getting by with temporary WFH rules, technology, and policies. If your company decides to make WFH permanent, you’ll need to create an infrastructure to manage these issues on an ongoing basis. For example, perhaps your employees have had to create makeshift office spaces in their homes with their existing furniture. But a folding chair or dining room chair isn’t ergonomic and can bring health problems over time.
You’ll need to provide better furniture, replace routers, substitute personal laptops with company ones, and deliver supplies on a more consistent basis. You’ll also need to create rules about who works from home, under what circumstances, and how often. Perhaps you’ll want employees to spend at least one day per week in the office or be available to come in for all-hands meetings. You’ll need to spell out all the expectations in an overall WFH plan.
Of particular importance in the plan should be communication guidelines, including how and how frequently to provide updates. Another important matter is standard operating procedures (SOPs) for how to manage data and documents. For example, where should team members store materials related to a particular project? Employees should also know which tools to use for what purpose. Finally, what hours are team members expected to be available?
If your company is prepared to think through all these issues, that’s a good sign that you’re ready for a permanent WFH setup.
If You Answered Yes
If you answered yes to all these questions, there’s a good chance your company is ready for a permanent WFH arrangement. If not, that’s okay! You might be ready after some adjustments. And if it’s just not a good fit, that’s okay too. Your company made it through this time and can look back fondly on WFH as something you’re glad you no longer have to do.