If there is anything potentially positive generated from 2020, it may be that workers were given the opportunity for flexible work, and organizations recognized that such policies could work.
“We’ve managed to this year find a whole new level of work and life balance that maybe didn’t exist before — maybe not across all verticals but certainly across the technology vertical,” says Arran Stewart, co-founder and chief visionary officer of online recruitment platform Job.com.
The rise in remote work is, so far, the biggest economic legacy of Covid-19, according to Gad Levanon, head of the Labor Markets Institute at The Conference Board.
“After eight months, the perception among most employers is that remote work does not negatively affect workers’ productivity, and perhaps even improves it,” Levanon wrote in a Forbes article. “As a result, a growing share of employers is expecting a permanent shift to remote work and is willing to hire 100% virtual workers anywhere in, and even outside, the US.”
But will this work-from-home movement include your contingent workers as well? The answer seems to be yes, unless the work cannot be done remotely, such as manufacturing roles.
Microsoft is one firm leading the charge: It announced this month that it will allow employees to work remotely up to 50% of the time and some employees to work remotely forever.
“We recognize that some employees are required to be onsite and some roles and businesses are better suited for working away from the worksite than others,” Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s executive VP and chief people officer, wrote in a blog post announcing the move. “However, for most roles, we view working from home part of the time (less than 50%) as now standard — assuming manager and team alignment.”
Facebook and Twitter have also recently announced that some or all workers can work remotely on a permanent basis. In addition, Dropbox, a cloud storage and sharing services company with more than 2,000 employees, last week announced it will be a “Virtual First” company. “Remote work (outside an office) will be the primary experience for all employees and the day-to-day default for individual work,” it stated in a blog post.
Here are a few things to consider before committing to a permanent remote-work policy:
Access to the best talent. On the bright side, a remote workforce means that organizations can seek the best talent regardless of where they hang their hats. And those talented individuals whose careers were hampered by where they lived will now have opportunities previously not available to them. But another consideration is that since workers — including contingents — have had a taste of working remotely, it may be hard to bring them back to the office. And the best talent has options; if their current employer does not provide what they want, a competing firm will be happy to take them.
“Every tech company is competing for each other’s tech labor,” explains Stewart. “If you don’t offer the same remote or flexible work balance as others, they will move. It’s very simple.”
Pay and geography. Some organizations that will allow workers to work remotely going forward, including Microsoft, have added a caveat: Those who choose to relocate to places with lower costs of living could face a reduction in pay. On the surface, this may seem like a good way to cut costs and provide a sense of equality for those who remain in a firm’s expensive headquarters area (for instance, California’s Silicon Valley or New York City).
But others argue pay should be based on productivity and the costs of labor versus the costs of output, not on where someone hangs their hat. And again, the organization faces the threat that the talent will leave for a competing firm.
“Your salary should reflect your productivity as an individual within a company — your seniority, how much value you bring to the business and what it means to the company,” Stewart says. “If they could afford to pay a worker a certain salary while they were living in Silicon Valley, why can’t they continue to pay that salary if they are based in Salt Lake City?”
Facebook, Twitter and VMWare Inc. are among the other technology companies that have put in place or are considering similar pay policies, Bloomberg reported.
Productivity. Maintaining and monitoring the productivity of remote workers, both on-staff and contingent, can be a challenge for managers.
“It actually inadvertently becomes more micro-managed, which is typically what people hate,” Stewart says. “But the reality is, the only way to truly maintain and stay on top when it comes to clarity of productivity is to manage people more.”
He advises setting up micro-tasks with set time limits. And utilizing technology software platforms can also help teams plan, track and manage projects themselves; this team approach takes some of the pressure off the manager as co-workers will hold each other accountable and on task.
Company culture. Building and maintaining a strong company culture could present the biggest challenge for firms with remote workers, and the impact of Covid-19’s forced remote-work situation on company culture has yet to be measured. In particular, those who were hired and onboarded remotely during the pandemic — never having been in the office or met their colleagues in person — will feel most disconnected.
In addition to tapping communication tools like Zoom for work-related meetings, it is important to schedule online social events such as lunches or coffee hours where colleagues can socialize and have non-work discussions. One-on-one meetings with managers as well as team meetings are also crucial. However, nothing really replaces in-person, human interaction, and expect corporate leaders to revisit remote-work policies if they detect a steep deterioration in company culture.
Government mandates. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay Area last month approved a growth policy document that included a mandate that all office-based employers with 25 or more employees have at least 60% of their employees telecommute on any given day.
However, last week San Francisco Mayor London Breed and San Jose, California, Mayor Sam Liccardo said they cannot support the telecommute proposal, citing concerns about economic harm to cities’ downtowns. In addition, the 15 members of the Bay Area delegation to the California State Legislature issued a letter raising significant concerns.
So, for the time being it looks like such policies will be at the discretion of the organizations themselves. But the fact that the proposal is afloat at all points to the interest in remote work remaining long-term.
The World Economic Forum reported Germany will publish a draft law making working from home a legal right, its labor minister has said. Reinforcing workers’ rights and regulating home-working are central to the plans.