With the vaccine rollouts well under way in many countries, the talk has turned to the reopening of the economies. One of the biggest issues facing many entrepreneurs, is the return to the workplace.
At the start of the pandemic, millions of office workers were sent home to work remotely. Once the initial technical issues were resolved, everybody seemed to profess that they are never going back to the office and their future was a zero commute remote work environment.
So confident that this new structure would be the new forever normal, many moved out of the big cities to rural or small communities, never expecting to commute again. Unfortunately, this might be a decision that they come to regret.
Understandably, no one knew if or when a vaccine would be developed. However, in less than two years many countries are experiencing high vaccination rates and are slowly reopening much of their economies as life returns to some form of normalcy.
So, what’s next? Well for starters, offices will begin to reopen, and people will be required to show up for work. Just wait for the howls of injustice, that after more than a year of remote work, employees will be required to be physically present at their place of work. But, the interesting thing is that this vocal group may be in the minority.
Recent research from KPMG is revealing that the majority of employees want to return to the workplace stating they “miss the social interaction, the buzz, the creativity of being at work”. However, they do want some form of hybrid arrangement combining the opportunity of working remotely part of the week.
Interestingly, another survey conducted by Accenture of financial firms in the US shows that 80% of executives want their employees to return office at least 4 to 5 days a week. Clearly there’s a misalignment between employee and employer expectations.
Just to muddy the waters a little more, EY conducted another survey, whereby more than half the employees surveyed around the world would consider leaving their job post covid-19, if they are not afforded some form of flexibility in where and when they work.
This juxtaposition could prove quite interesting for both parties. When you consider that most employers want people in the office, where exactly are those employees willing to leave their present positions going to go?
Lots of discussion
Apparently, HR consulting firms and employment lawyers have been exceptionally busy over the past 18 months. For the most part they been dealing with work from home challenges many businesses have had to manage, and it doesn’t look like it will subside any time soon.
The new challenge is how to deal with the return to office post Covid-19.
But, depending on the jurisdiction, employees may not have much choice as to where they work. According to some employment lawyers, employers have the right to expect their employees to return to the office as the pandemic was an aberration or a departure from the norm and didn’t change the employment contract.
Granted, for some businesses, working from home may not be an issue and therefore will continue the practice. However, other employers will be less open to continuing the work from home concept. This is primarily because the pandemic has shown that communications, productivity, and creativity has suffered because of remote working.
In SBM #89, Work From Home I related how IBM recalled 11,000 of their employees back to the office 18 months after sending them home to work remotely. They realized that they were missing out on the innovation that happened through in person interactions. So, I think there’s an opportunity to learn from their experience.
So, the question to small business owners is what are you going to do? This question needs to be dealt with now and should not be put off, because once the economies reopen, you may be just too busy to give this the necessary thought.
The best advice I can give any employer is to decide what you want. Yes, it’s important to weigh the needs of your employees against any decision you make. But one thing we must remember is that your business is not a democracy. At the end of the day, it’s your business, your vision and your decision. The buck really does stop with you.
Managing the desire of employees to work when and where they want to will be an absolute nightmare for most small businesses. And let’s be honest, the reason many employees want this flexibility is that they are free to do what they want, when they want to do it. Whether that’s going to the gym or shopping and they’ll just do the work at nights or on weekends.
When you consider that prior to the pandemic the clarion call was for work life balance and the separation of the two. Now some have reversed their position solely in order to support their desire for utmost flexibility. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. Business needs to operate in a structured environment, where individuals can depend on their teammates to be available when needed.
For example, when everyone was working 9 to 5 at the office and a crisis erupted, the typical reaction was to gather everyone around and brainstorm a solution. The same could be said about an urgent opportunity. However, with everyone working when they want, chances are your company can’t effectively react with the urgency that these situations require. Unless of course you mandate that everyone needs to be available during normal working hours, but that is contra to their desire to work where and when they want.
Will a hybrid model work?
Much discussion has taken place around some form of hybrid solution, whereby employees work part of the time in the office and the rest of the time at home. This may be easier for a large company but probably less so for a small business.
Another major challenge to the hybrid model, is who gets to participate? It could be argued that administrative people can split their work, but what about the person responsible for shipping, receiving or order fulfillment? How do you make this situation equitable?
Another way to look at it, is if your employees were unhappy before pandemic, you probably have a leadership or other issues. However, if for the most part everyone was happy before Covid-19, then why should you change?
For many entrepreneurs, this situation is going to cause a few sleepless nights as they try to weigh their needs versus the needs of their employees. But at the end of the day, you have got to do what’s best for the business.
Get More LIFE Out of Your Business
You shouldn’t be the hardest working person in your company.
Many small business owners find that even after the struggling start-up years, they’re working too many hours and still managing every aspect of their businesses.
Greg Weatherdon has been there, done that. As an entrepreneur, he learned not only how to get a business to the point of running smoothly, but also how to reduce the number of hours he worked, delegate more responsibility to his employees, and take longer vacations while his business chugged along like a well-oiled machine. And now he is providing the secret to success.
Do you suffer from any of the following?
1. Business ownership isn’t living up to the dream.
2. Endless workdays.
3. You can’t find good people.
4. Profits are less than expected.
5. You can never take a vacation.
You’re not alone. But there is a solution. As Greg demonstrates, with some time and effort, you really can Get More Life Out Of Your Business.