remote work policies

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Are Your Employees OK? Creating Sustainable COVID-19 Remote Work Policies

Are your remote work policies sustainable? Is your company culture still viable? Are your employees really ok?

Over the past few months, many experts (hundreds!) have written articles about COVID-19 workplace policies—especially the work-from-home versus onsite work dilemma we face now and in the future. I should know. I’ve written a couple myself! Yet, in all of the debates about the benefits and detriments of working from home versus in the office, I question whether there has been enough focus on the long-term effects on staff. I also wonder about the long-term impact on company culture.

New Thinking for A New Time

So how, in this chaotic response to the coronavirus pandemic of moving employees offsite—ensuring they are connected properly to work from home—do we ensure the side effects of remote work don’t cause long-term damage to your staff and your long-term strategic plans?

Here are some thoughts on what to look out for:

1. Culture

Culture (defining, creating, sustaining) has been one of the top business issues for the last 20 years. Tech companies spent big bucks trying to positively influence their corporate cultures (ping pong tables, beer taps, etc.). They tried to build a culture that would help entice employees’ top echelon when talent was tight. Today, though, COVID-19 is the immediate buzz kill for cultures across the spectrum. All the money and time built into an organization’s culture now has limited value.

When I started out of college at a Tier-one consulting firm, I loved going to work. I also enjoyed the evenings as people I worked with would socialize after work. It was great. If COVID-19 had broken out then, a major reason I appreciated the firm would be gone (as it is for millions of people now). I’d be working in isolation and not interacting (or socializing) with my peers. I can’t predict that I would like the firm. In fact, A friend recently told me her daughter loved work at her company in Silicon Valley. COVID-19 hit, though, and she went remote. She quickly realized she hated the work, but she loved the company’s culture and people. Soon after this epiphany, she left to look for another job.

As a result of COVID-19, the existing culture of an organization may have become dismantled. Companies have to work differently if their employees are going to be working remotely. Today, to have any relevance, we must rethink and rework the employer brand and focus that drives high-end talent to a company.

2. Loyalty

The most powerful talent retention strategy is the loyalty or commitment your employees have to your organization or its mission.

How have you addressed your employee retention strategy in light of your remote working policy and COVID impacts? There are so many different surveys related to the top 10 reasons top employees stay with their employer. But there are consistent themes. The most obvious? “Salary and compensation” is never number one. In fact, the highest “salary” appeared in a recent review of top 10 lists was fourth!

The consistent reasons employees stayed included:

  • Culture
  • Liking the people they work with
  • Good bosses
  • Enjoying the challenge(s)
  • Learning new things

In many Top 10 lists, these reasons come before pay. Yet in a COVID-19 world (and potentially post-COVID-19 for companies that remain remote), most of those reasons either go away or become harder to make relevant. Culture is more difficult to develop; working with people becomes less pertinent when dealing with them exclusively over Zoom or MS Teams. Learning new things also becomes more difficult when you are not in the office. After all, you have less exposure to what’s going on throughout the company; it is harder to get on new exciting projects. Invariably, once those top three to five reasons become less applicable, their salary climbs closer to the top of the list. When that happens, pay is often – and sometimes easily – improved by job-hopping.

3. Mental Health

Working from home can be a dream come true—or a nightmare. It depends on who you are, what type of work you do, and your company. But let’s keep it on an individual level.

Let’s start with the personality of the employee, specifically extroverts versus introverts. The saying goes that extroverts gain their energy from being with people and introverts exhaust their energy from being with people. COVID-19 may seem to be a dream for introverts (and a corresponding nightmare for extroverts), but it goes deeper. Many studies (yes… science!) point to an innate human need for social connection. I am an introvert, but an “extrovert wannabe” (my life’s tag line). This is hard for me. Before COVID-19, I may have had a week of meetings and evenings filled with networking events. If I have more than two evening networking events, I can guarantee that I will be canceling anything over that amount. Now? I’m craving even one networking event!

Even as an introvert, I find that there is only so much TV I can watch before I feel my brain cells begin to disintegrate! And I am lucky; I am at home with a partner (though eight months into isolation, I would guess he may not be feeling as fortunate) so I get some social interaction. People who are isolated and are in their homes 24/7, however, can be at risk.

Think about it: what do they do to punish someone in prison? They put them in isolation.

Mental Health: Avoiding Isolation Prison

This may not be the best thing for some employees. And in the short-term, the situation isn’t going to get any better: Those company holiday parties and outings have all but disappeared. Have you thought about ways to help your employees feel more engaged?

Here are some ideas to implement today:

  • Reach out and check on them
  • Send small gifts or have an online game night
  • Do you offer an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) to your employees? If so, reacquaint yourself with its offerings (making your staff aware it exists could be more important now than ever).
  • Can you positively influence their off-hours time? (We bought our staff access to Master Class as a way to keep them mentally stimulated with things other than work.)

Working where you live eliminates that daily connection many of us took for granted. Yes, some of your employees may thrive within this new environment. But understand that many may not.

What are you doing for those individuals?

4. Physical Health Issues

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people were able to work out (gym, outdoors, etc.) more frequently. Unfortunately, working out from home is not for everybody.

The term “couch potato” often brings up the image of those sitting in front of the TV on the weekend. For many, that image is now our reality – seven days a week. And we’re working longer hours (thus the excitement of companies seeming an increase in productivity) while sitting in front of the computer! Physical activity studies recommend walking 10,000 steps a day. Most of us are lucky if we get past 1,000! Less physical activity leads to more physical problems, which leads to more money spent on health care (on top of the obvious costs associated with COVID-19).

It may not seem to be a problem now. But long term, inactivity is bound to be an issue.

Your employees must take some time for their physical health each day. Something as simple as standing up at the top of the hour and stretching can help. Standing desks have also shown significant benefits. Whatever message you can convey to your employees to move around a little each day, step outside on their front porch or in their back yard. And if they have stairs at home—encourage them to walk up and down a few extra times during the workday.

Remote Work Policies: Prepare for the Future

Today, many companies are touting increased productivity due to remote work policies. But when something looks too good to be true, it often is.

Companies need to be looking at the long-term effects of remote working on their employees, their company culture, and their differentiators in the marketplace. After all, short-term gains (like increased productivity) don’t always turn into long-term strategies.

If people are working harder at home, has your company assessed its sustainability? Once life returns to normal (and it will), how many people will be willing to work the same hours while watching reruns of “Friends”? Most importantly, what issues will we need to anticipate, given the strain the pandemic has caused on your employees’ mental and physical health?

Create sustainable remote work policies now.

Better to look at ways to address the not-so-great aspects of working from home, and your COVId-19 induced remote work policies, now — pay now or pay later!