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Rethinking Work Flexibility during Work from Home

Wednesday August 25, 2021, By Nisha Chandran

Amid the Covid-19 crisis, working from home has become a norm for many. But even as remote work has normalised, it’s a fairly recent development.  Work from home was less mainstream before the pandemic and even stigmatised.  Hence, most organizations are still exploring the various nuances of remote working.  As part of the post-covid era, employers and employees are grappling with the idea of workplace flexibility. Burnout defined as “chronic workplace stress” and pandemic fatigue have become a reality.  Today we rethink work flexibility and explore how remote work has affected employees and businesses alike and ways to deal with hitting the proverbial wall due to burn out.

Working from home can be beneficial to both the employee and the employer.  One of the considerable benefits of working from home is having access to a broader range of job opportunities that aren’t limited by geographic location.  Now that employees can work from any location; they do not have to cancel their travel plans. Also, no more commuting to work means extra time savings that can allow them to focus on priorities outside of work.  Employees have the autonomy and the independence to choose their common working schedule.

The biggest remote working advantages for employers all revolve around employee well-being, daily operations, and revenue.  Organizations realize that the standard 9 to 5 jobs left little space for more creativity. Therefore, allowing employees to choose their schedule brings out the best in them and entrusts loyalty towards their employers. Survey results from 2018 showed that 80% of workers would choose a job that offers a flexible schedule and 30% said that they value flexible work over additional vacation time. An additional 35% stated that flexible work is more important to them than a prestigious title or position.

Now that employers do not have strict work timings, employees can work from international locations. This will bring new perspectives and will attract employees from multiple domains. Time and again research has proved that diverse teams perform better than non-diverse teams.   An organization’s major concern with flexibility is less productivity and discipline. Employees tend to be better disciplined in a remote working environment because with work from home flexibility, employees have greater control over their schedule.  In addition, managers and leadership evaluate their employees on their output versus their presence in a physical location. This facilitates a team of results-oriented culture that emphasizes strong impact and thus, helps the business thrive. Flexible schedules support the UN’s sustainable development goals by saving the amount of water, commuting expenses, work clothing, eating lunch outside, less usage of vehicles, less usage of disposable crockery & cutlery, and less usage of plastic and electricity. Thus, reducing the carbon footprint for both the employer and the employee.

There are several types of flexible work arrangements and organizations must choose a model that works best for them.

Hybrid workplace – Depending on the agreement between the employees and their organization, employees can be allowed to work 2 to 3 days from home. Whereas, their presence at the office will be requested for the rest of the working days.

Remote Working – In this model, employees’ presence at the office is not mandatory. Employees will work completely from home until and unless they wish to come to the office.

On-demand office work – There are certain positions that require employees to be physically present at work, however, that depends on certain situations/events. However, when requested employees must come to the office to perform the required task.

Flexible work-weeks – The employees need not stick with the working hours of the office and can choose their work hours/days. If they choose to work on the weekends instead of the work-week they can do so provided their productivity is not compromised.

There has been various research that suggests that productivity has improved while working from home.  A study by Stanford of 16,000 workers over 9 months found that working from home increased productivity by 13%.  However, many of the reports of increased productivity were early in the pandemic.  Panic productivity is used to term this temporary and sudden increase in productivity.  Some of the increase in productivity could have stemmed from the fear and uncertainty of one’s job. The time that used to be spent on travelling is now being spent on the job.  What we are not accounting for is the increasing hours people are working.  In other words, high productivity is masking an exhausted workforce.

One of the major consequences of the shift to remote working has been the profusion of digital burnout. Especially for those who have most recently joined the workforce.  Junior members of the workforce are facing digital burnout much more than the rest of the workforce. Probably because online onboarding, networking, and training are hardly a substitute to the real in-person experience.

Remote work is here to stay in the post-Covid world. Leaders have a responsibility to consider the experience of their workers most affected by work-from-home burnout and to create an inclusive culture that can benefit their entire organization.  True and lasting productivity requires balance. Hard work and dedication should be interspersed with time off to refresh and rejuvenate.  Consider the following practical approaches to help your employees.

Flexibility is a must during WFH too:  Contrary to popular belief, remote working can be as rigid as the physical setting.  Work from home does not automatically convert to flexible timings.  While some tasks and decisions need to be completed at a specific time, leaders should consider whether all tasks and decisions need to happen this way. At a time when kitchen counters have turned into work spaces and online education has become a norm, allowing for some asynchronous collaboration will give employees the flexibility to manage their multiple responsibilities. Flexibility can bring a bit of sanity and comfort and become a competitive advantage for an organization.

Scheduled time-off: While working from home it may seem like employees are always available. It’s important that employees have a scheduled “off” time.  Taking breaks and switching tasks not only reduces burnout but also improves creative thinking and problem solving. Leaders must be sensitive to their employees’ situations especially since it is not quite visible during these remote working times.

While panic and perks may have increased employee productivity in the early months of working from home, ultimately it is s positive and inclusive work culture that will influence long-term productivity.  By paying attention to those workers who are most susceptible to pandemic fatigue and burnout, leaders can build better organizations for all of their employees.  Remote working is here to stay.  Being innovative, vigilant, flexible, and inclusive is the way forward.

 

Author Profile

Nisha Chandran
Nisha Chandran
A seasoned training professional and DEI consultant, Nisha leads and program manages the DEI Training and Development services as part of the Centre of Excellence team at Avtar.
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