While we have long been trending toward remote work, I never imagined a scenario where much of the country would be working from home for months on end. This collective experiment has come with some pros and cons: I've been able to do some of the best work of my career without the distractions of non-stop travel and commutes. And as a mother to three children under age 5, I've been able to be present for every breakfast and bedtime with them for the last four months. But still, it's hard to attain "work-life balance" when both work and life happen in the same space.
As the country begins to open up, this "new normal" won't last forever. That's why my venture firm, Inspired Capital, set out to explore which parts of our current experiment will continue in the future. Here's what we've learned:
Employees Crave Flexibility
Remote work lays the foundation for our work to become better integrated in our lives--many employees may have discovered the undeniable benefits of slipping out for a 3 p.m. jog. But now, as we enter our fifth month of working from home (or living at work), many of us are starting to miss the office--and with good reason: We get a lot of value from being in an office together. Collaboration is easier when you can gather around a whiteboard, and casual interactions in the hallway can can spark big ideas.
But it turns out the people who miss the office may be in the minority: Our survey of hundreds of professionals from across the country found that 66 percent will want to work from home more post-pandemic.
Major companies like Facebook, Google, and others have already said that employees can work from home (WFH) until the end of the year. Twitter made their WFH policy indefinite. No matter what state you're in, it's not too soon to start thinking about your long-term WFH policies. Are you open to a permanent remote option? Or at least offering the opportunity to WFH part-time? It may become a new expectation for employees--but more importantly, it may be the only safe way to move forward.
Employees Adapt Quickly--and High Productivity is Still Possible
As a psychology major, I was taught that it takes at least 28 days to teach your brain a new habit (though new studies show it can take more like 66 days).
During the pandemic, we've had to create new habits practically overnight. The minutes we used to spend commuting, riding the elevator up to the office, and grabbing coffee have been repurposed. In fact, 46 percent of employees say they're working longer hours right now. And they are reporting high levels of productivity. Education technology company Chegg surveyed its employees and found that 86 percent of them reported their productivity as being as good as or better than pre-quarantine levels.
Leaders Need to Be Vulnerable and Authentic
When a leader invites people to be who they are, they often perform better long term. Studies have shown time and again that when employees can be their authentic selves, they have higher job satisfaction and higher engagement.
Right now, we are all bringing our full selves to work. Through Zoom windows, we're getting a peek into our co-workers' home lives and realizing that we're in the same boat of barking dogs, crying babies, and parents popping their head in to ask (another) question.
As a leader, it's OK to admit that you're having a tough day, and to make your employees feel they can do the same. One of my favorite quotes, mentioned by Chriselle Lim of Bumo, is that we're not just working from home; we're at home, during a pandemic, trying to work. It's an important distinction.
Teams Unite Around a Sense of Purpose
We all know what "IQ" (intellectual quotient) and "EQ" (emotional quotient) are, but don't forget about "MQ" (meaning quotient). A high MQ can drive motivation and make for more productive organizations. Business leaders should recognize the value in fostering an environment rich in meaning.
It may feel difficult to put this into practice remotely, but motivating employees doesn't just mean company retreats and team-building exercises. Creating motivation starts with being clear about your company's core mission and making sure every employee is aligned with that mission. Chief, for example, shares its mission on its homepage: "Chief was founded to drive women forward into positions of power--and keep them there." It's clear, easy to digest, and lets employees wake up knowing that their mission is to bring more gender parity to business leadership.
Working from home has taught us many lessons. Leading with a sense of purpose, flexibility, authenticity, and vulnerability will prepare you and your company for whatever the remainder of 2020 throws our way.