Will we need more or less office space as companies ask people to come back to the office this year? Will employers negotiate smaller, cheaper digs after having made their peace with employees working from home more often, or will square footage be necessary to give workers safe distancing space? Will we say goodbye to open floor plans and hello to enclosed offices and even — gasp! — cubicles?
Ultimately, we may have to think of remote work as much-desired employee benefit.
What happened to our productivity? Were we able to get a lot of work done? If we didn’t accomplish as much as we thought we would, was that more a product of the strangeness of having the whole family at home at once? Of having to homeschool? Of having more Zoom meetings that just took you away from work? Will productivity measures confirm employers’ worst fears about working at home or demonstrate that productivity is possible both at home and in the office? The proof will be in the work that was accomplished.
Unconventional thinking posits that flexibility increases employee job satisfaction, leading to higher productivity. It also helps with hiring: The candidate pool widens when you can look for talent beyond your physical location.
Offering flexibility means accommodating changing lifestyles, health issues and family changes. In recent years, many employers learned to live with flexible work arrangements that they’d been denying parents for years. If they keep offering those options, perhaps all parents will be able to spend more time with their children without sacrificing their careers.
Even the practice of fostering safe distances among workers by being flexible about hours and staggering shifts may have broader implications. Not everyone can work from 9 to 5; maybe allowing workers to choose hours will mean less crowding on roads, in public transit and on streets as well.
It’s clear that employers have seen that working at home is possible, and that realization may very well translate to expanded flexible work arrangements. Remote work arrangements already had been growing, with the number of remote workers increasing by 159% between 2005 and 2017, according to the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Encouraging work-life balance and increasing employee loyalty and engagement are other advantages of flexible work arrangements. Many employees value having a choice in when, where and how they work — especially if it means spending less time in traffic.
Economists predict that our forced confinement during the peak pandemic months will lead to flexible work arrangements that will result in:
- Lower overhead.
- Lower office costs.
- Finding and keeping talent without worrying about access to public or private transport or accessibility issues.
Flexible arrangements, we’ve found out during quarantine, include noise from children in the background and require talents beyond our job descriptions, such as live video, blogging and social media.
Openness to working with diverse teams in flexible ways, offering a range of talents and solutions, will strengthen business capabilities into the future. No longer will work-life flexibility come without training or guidance on how to manage it well. Employers have tried it themselves; they know it needs more support to work.