Telework: How to Navigate the New Flexible Work Model
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced employers into more telework, remote work, and workplace flexibilities. Many Human Resource (HR) experts are predicting that putting this particular genie back in the bottle will be impossible, even after words like “sheltering in place” and “social distancing” become a thing of the past. Both employers and employees now realize the multiple positive personal, social, and economic benefits of flexible work models. For example, instead of asking, “when should we meet in person?” we are more likely to ask, “do we need to meet in person?”
Our new normal for employees, freelancers (sole proprietors), and gig workers (independent contractors) may very well incorporate a mix of onsite, telework, distributed team, and remote work from home options. We call this mix the flexible work model. And with the lifting of social distancing bans, remote work can occur at home, coworking spaces, coffee shops, cafes, libraries, and any other spaces technology allows.
HR Anew has collected data from more than 1,000 employees, freelancers, and gig workers about their experience with flexible work schedules. They say:
“I am able to be more creative and innovative.”
“I am more in control about how I use my time.”
“I feel more trusted and respected. I like the autonomy and freedom.”
“I have more energy now because of less stress from commuting and worrying about childcare.”
“It’s great when you can better service customers in diverse time zones.”
“It just feels like the future to me.”
“My employer respects and trusts me to get the job done with quality, precision, and on time.”
Benefits of the Flexible Work Model
With a well-designed and thoughtful employer infrastructure, the flexible work model can lead to greater success and positive results for employers, as well as, their workforces and customers. For example, in a study conducted by CISCO, the company realized an estimated $277 million in annually in productivity by allowing employees to work remotely. According to Global Workplace Analytics, the average employee saves their employer between $2,500 and $4,000 per year on overhead and other costs by working remotely at least half the time. In addition to direct overhead savings, the flexible work model provides numerous other benefits for employers in the areas of customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, performance and productivity, and recruitment and hiring.
Customer Satisfaction: A flexible work model promotes an enhanced customer experience. For many organizations, customers are across the country or around the world. The telework and remote work model provides a natural extension of work hours without increasing employer costs. For example, an employee could begin their workday at 5:00 a.m., break their workday at 10:00 a.m., and resume the workday from 7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., enabling them to cover several time zones. Many customers expect service 24/7 and where an employee is located is irrelevant provided the service, products, and customer experience is exceptional.
Employee Satisfaction: A flexible work model increases employee satisfaction through the flexibility to customize their schedule around their needs and preferences. This often leads to feelings of empowerment and enhanced mental focus. Greater satisfaction correlates positively to performance and productivity metrics.
Performance and Productivity: A flexible work model increases performance and productivity through reduced commuting time, fewer interruptions, less stress, flexible scheduling, and less time in meetings.
Recruitment: A flexible work model enables employers to engage candidates from a larger geographical sphere, attract people with small business and start-up expertise, and appeal to working parents.
Why Business Leaders Have Concerns
There are some lingering concerns about allowing flexible work options. These concerns are grounded in beliefs and fears that employees who telework are not fully productive and available to meet business needs. Specific concerns include lack of availability during normal work hours; interference of home life on work productivity; lack of accessibility to other team members and managers; and concerns about the effectiveness of virtual customer interaction. Additionally, some business leaders and managers are concerned about how to evaluate if telework or remote work is successful and how to plan for risks and business continuity.
Now that a record number of people are working remotely, it is important for you to evaluate the successes and challenges of the flexible workplace model, as well as plan for risks and business continuity. The key is a well-designed and thoughtful employer infrastructure, with specific considerations given to employment laws and regulations, which continue to change in response to a freelancer and gig economy with greater worker rights.
We recommend the use of a planning and implementation system to help you see around the corners, prepare for a new workplace paradigm, and mitigate flexible work risks, anxiety, and fears. EASE is an acronym (establish, access, secure and engage) that we use to address the four key components of your flexible work model. The system is based on more than 20 years of experience and helps incorporate policies, processes, procedures, and proven best practices that inspire employees; implements and manages strategic and thoughtful telework, distributed team, remote, and onsite worker systems; minimizes or prevent the opportunity to fail; and positions your organization for continuity today and for the long term.
Establish: A Flexible Work Model. You should plan and establish a flexible work model based on a business continuity model that allows an appropriate mix of onsite, telework, and remote work home options. Creating or building on a business continuity plan should be customized to your organization, industry, employee mix, and business objectives. Your plan should address everything from home office setup, equipment and office supply needs, and mail management to OSHA requirements and establishing insurance thresholds for worker’s compensation, general liability, errors and omissions, and other coverages.
Access: Highly Interactive Business and Virtual Communication Tools for Your Team. Productivity and employee satisfaction are influenced by the ability to communicate and collaborate. There are many technology platforms out there, and they all offer pros and cons. What is essential is to first determine the features needed for optimal employee and customer collaboration and then select a highly secure technology with a user experience designed for easy use. Popular platforms that employers are currently using include:
- Adobe Connect
- Google Hangouts
- Go to Meeting/Go to Webinar
- Microsoft Teams
Secure: Your Technology Hygiene. A flexible work model is only as good as the technology it is built upon. This assessment goes beyond hardware and software to include well-defined processes and procedures. Among areas on the checklist include:
- Back channel chats
- Corporate governance
- Data Storage
- Protection of company and client intellectual, confidential, and private information
- Remote access tools and resources to include privacy screens
- Strong passwords and other administrative controls
- Use and protection of work equipment while working remotely
Engage: Human Resources (HR) as a Strategic Partner. HR has a huge role in successfully moving your organization to a flexible work model because planning, as well as, policies and procedures encompass a broad range of important HR areas, such as:
- Employee payroll/state tax implications
- Compensation and benefits to include insurances
- Learning and talent development workshops
- Manager and employee relations
- Performance and Productivity
- Talent acquisition planning
Ten Steps You Can Take to Change the Workplace Mindset
As we adapt to new ways of working, consider ten steps you can take to go far beyond the COVID-19 crisis to create an environment in which a flexible work model can succeed. While many may seem obvious, we know that consciously practicing these 10 actions is as essential as all the logistical and operational planning and implementation you will go through as you pivot your organization.
As you review the list, reflect on the following three questions: What do you already do? Do you do it well? What can you do to build on what you have in place to make it better?
- Be concerned and express empathy about the wellbeing of your people. Show respect and kindness.
- Be open and inclusive — lead beyond the crisis and learn.
- Embrace shared goals and articulate clear outcomes.
- Ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be involved, to be heard, and participate in the conversation.
- Focus on goals achieved – not just the amount of time worked.
- Give people hope and confidence that we can get through anything together.
- Protect your staff from being overworked, overwhelmed, or burned out.
- Share recognitions and appreciations – individual and team accomplishments.
- Stay connected — out of sight, not out of mind.
- Use videoconferencing with everyone on camera (this can minimize the experience of loneliness and maximize the team’s attention).
To help you get started or continue with your telework or remote workplace journey, we invite you to complete our complimentary business continuity assessment at www.hranew.com and receive an immediate complimentary to-do checklist for your company.
About Deborah Stallings
Deborah Stallings, MA, SHRM-SCP is the President and Chief Executive Officer of HR Anew, Inc., a national fully integrated human resource management, equal employment opportunity, and learning and talent development professional services firm. In business for more than 20 years, the company supports government, private corporations, and nonprofit clients. Deborah is a business and civic leader and loves people. HR Anew and Deborah’s life work involves a commitment to help elevate people in workplaces and communities across America. In 2001, she established the nonprofit Howard County Human Resource Society, an approved chapter of the national and international Society for Human Resource Management. Deborah earned a Master of Arts in Management and Leadership, and a Bachelor of Arts, Business Administration from Notre Dame of Maryland University. She has also served as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Business at her alma mater. She is a Senior Certified Professional (SCP) by the national Society for Human Resource Management and a tenured member of the Women Presidents Organization, and has received several awards to include Top 100 Minority Business Enterprise in the region, Maryland Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs; and Women Business Champion, U.S. Small Business Administration. Deborah serves on several boards and is a HR strategist, educator, and entrepreneur. Share your feedback or connect with Deborah at CEO@hranew.com.