At the beginning of the pandemic, the overarching sense among many companies was that working from home was going to be a temporary solution to help mitigate against the spread of Covid-19. As communities implemented stay-at-home orders, companies sent workers home to work for what they hoped would be a few weeks.
Six months later, millions of Americans are still working from home. And there's no end in sight.
The reality of permanent or semi-permanent remote work is starting to set in, even as companies are trying to figure out the best approach to getting their employees back in the office. Some companies, like Twitter, have said their employees can keep working from home forever. Others have extended their remote work policy through sometime in 2021, with an eye toward bringing everyone back whenever possible.
Even Amazon, which announced it was hiring for 33,000 corporate roles that would work remotely, plans to eventually bring those workers into its offices.
But, in many cases, those workers aren't interested in getting back to the office. That's according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which said that as many as a third of office workers would prefer to never go back to the office. Even more interesting is that 72 percent say they'd like the ability to work remotely at least two days a week.
There are probably a variety of reasons for that sentiment. For example, most people have a level of anxiety associated with the unknown. There is a lot of uncertainty around getting back to the office. Is it safe? Is it even necessary? The longer they work from home, the more they settle into a routine and create their own habits for being productive.
In addition, a big part of the equation for many of your employees is the fact that they have children attempting some version of online learning. As someone with four such children, I can speak first-hand of the challenge many parents are facing trying to imagine going back into an office before their children go back to in-person school.
With this in mind, it might be time to start thinking about a long-term plan for both in-office and remote working. Well, the time to start thinking about a plan was probably a few months ago, but better late than never.
What does that look like? The answer obviously depends on a lot of factors, but it usually involves these three things:
The first consideration should be the needs of your people. That includes your customers, but more importantly, it means your team. Any plan for long-term remote working needs to address the unique challenges that your team will face working from home, and should be designed to continue to serve your customers.
Balancing those two things can seem difficult, but one of the keys is to acknowledge that the solution might look a lot different than what you're used to. That's OK. The key is to think through the different circumstances your team is facing and come up with creative ways to empower them to do their work, even if that doesn't look like it did when they sat at a desk in an office building.
That means it's important to have systems and processes in place to meet those needs. For example, you should think through the way your team will interact with each other, and with customers. It also means being intentional about how you communicate, especially if you end up with a team split between the office and remote. Meetings look different when half the team isn't there in person.
You'll also want to be clear on expectations, in terms of how and when work is done. One of the benefits of working remotely is that it usually comes with additional flexibility in terms of your schedule. That should be balanced with a clear understanding of how you define productivity.
Fortunately, there are a lot of tools available for managing those processes. Slack and Microsoft Teams weren't invented for the pandemic, but they certainly make staying connected and productive a lot easier. Google Docs makes collaboration a lot less complicated than sending files back and forth via email. And, of course, Zoom makes it simple to meet face-to-face, even when you can't be face-to-face.
None of those tools can replace the office environment, but they do help you reinforce your culture and keep your team engaged and focused on staying productive. Your job is to give them what they need to make that possible.