Business of Well-being

COVID-19: Who Should Work from Home?

COVID-19 and the workplace

Since the coronavirus outbreak first hit early this year, it has disrupted every facet of human life. From how we work to how we unwind, the pandemic has altered life as we know it. The stay-at-home and lockdown measures to rein in the outbreak caused many businesses to remodel their business operations to survive the unparalleled times, and one such strategy was remote work. For the future of work in the post-pandemic era, many employers are looking at extending remote work for their employees, but not before answering the crucial question: who should work from home?

In the wake of the global health crisis, more than two-thirds of the nation’s workforce had adopted remote work for at least some part of the week. Nearly eight months into the pandemic, many of these employees have swiftly adapted to and are now more comfortable with working from home. According to employee survey and people analytics platform Perceptyx, more than 95% of employees say they would love to continue working from home, either in hybrid work patterns or full time, after the pandemic. This marks an increase from the 66% who wanted to adopt remote work in April 2020.

However, employers need to factor in several considerations, including work productivity, employee health and safety needs, and local guidelines to determine who should work from home. Here are some strategies to help with this decision:

Listen to your Employees

Deciding who should work from home should not be a unilateral HR-led decision; HR managers need to seek employees’ opinions, for obvious reasons. The pandemic has affected employees in different ways, therefore, workers have different preferences for their work arrangements going forward. While a new college graduate or single employee who lives alone, for instance, may find the office environment more fun and productive, a parent with a young child may prefer to work from home as it allows time to meet their caregiving demands and achieve a healthy work-home balance.

Employees who prefer remote work cite several benefits, including less commute stress, greater autonomy, better work flexibility, money savings, and improved productivity. HR leaders may leverage these benefits to achieve a successful remote work model. Engage with employees to know what works for them and what does not.

Further, supervisors should identify the challenges workers faced while telecommuting during the lockdown period and those who are most vulnerable to these problems. Some employees reported higher stress levels from remote work, for several reasons, including inadequate ergonomic conditions, inadequate communication channels and less collaboration, and mental health challenges from the isolation that comes with remote work. For employees who may find these challenges overwhelming, HR leaders could offer them the option of working from the office.

Put Employee Health and Safety First

While employers have the right to ask employees to return to the office and have control over the work location, it is within an employee’s rights to demand a safe work environment. If an employer does not implement effective measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus within the workspace, workers have the right to continue to work remotely.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employee has the right to ask to telecommute under certain circumstances without discrimination. In light of the pandemic, individuals with chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, and chronic airway disease, who are most susceptible to COVID-19 complications, could be allowed to work remotely.

Further, workers who care for a loved one with COVID-19 may also be allowed to work from home to provide them with more time for their caregiving roles and also, protect the rest of the workforce from the infection.

Employers should also ensure the work environment is remodeled to incorporate local COVID-19 health recommendations for those who wish to work onsite. You should also ensure remote workers can do their jobs safely by carrying out a risk assessment to evaluate and mitigate the risk of injuries and diseases that could be caused by remote work

Empower Departments

Empower your supervisors and department heads to identify job functions that are best suited for the office environment, and create an effective work plan to allow employees to perform their roles on-site in an environment that safeguards their health.

The department heads can identify teams and individuals with no experience with remote work or who would work better within the office environment, as well as critical work activities that may be impeded if the key employees involved work from home. HR managers may need to readapt work patterns in these situations to allow workers to adopt a hybrid schedule, which allows them to work on-site only for tasks that involve more physical and manual activities on-site.

So departments can determine who works from home on the basis of job contexts and on which models yield the best results both for the employee and the business.

Tips to Ensure Successful Telework

Remote work does not always guarantee productivity. Without the right work conditions, resources, and tools, employees may find working from home much less productive. Employers need to implement some measures for a successful remote work policy:

1. Provide the right technology and resources

In a recent PwC survey, employees identified inadequate infrastructure as the primary impediment to successful remote work. Identify and provide technology tools your employees will need to work effectively from home. You also need to train employees on how to use these tools to ensure an efficient workflow

2. Set up clear work schedules

To make remote workers more productive, be clear about what hours you want them to be available. This clearly defines personal and work times for employees and helps them build a healthier work-life balance.

3. Encourage Communication

The social isolation that comes with the pandemic is bad enough, working from home may deepen the feeling of being alone for many workers. Supervisors should set up a system that ensures seamless  access to colleagues and supervisors. Employers should also maintain frequent check-ins and encourage communication among employees via interactive breaks and regular team meetings.

Final Thoughts

Recent surveys have found that remote work has yielded positive results both for employers and their employees. Less commute stress, lower burnout rates, and increased job flexibility are among the reasons why most employees are considering remote work in the post-pandemic era; however, many employers aren’t sure what remote work should be like after the pandemic without sabotaging workplace productivity. Therefore, managers need to factor in key considerations, including employee productivity, job contexts, and employee health and safety, to optimize remote work and model an effective strategy for telework.

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