As the business world begins the slow process of returning to normal, Jack Wallen believes there are certain changes companies are going to have to make to keep employees on the payroll.
Much of the United States is starting to take on some semblance of normalcy. It's not 100%, and it may never return to pre-pandemic levels of business as usual. And that's kind of the point here. We're in some rather uncharted territory, where businesses across the country are finally feeling like they can get back their pre-COVID moxie and hit their strides again.
Reality tells a rather different story. Yes, companies around the globe should see an uptick in their bottom lines, and the ability to produce goods and services has already started ramping back up across all industries. But there's an indefatigable issue that will persist from this point on.
Workers have tasted a level of freedom they hadn't before known.
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You've been reading about it since the beginning of the pandemic, where businesses were forced into predominantly remote-work situations. According to Statista, before COVID only 17% of US workers did their jobs remotely. After COVID, however, 44% of the workforce opted to go the remote route. That's a data point no business can ignore.
And it's all fine and good until companies start to demand their workers return to pre-COVID in-house operations. When those companies discover a significant portion of their employees refuse to venture back into the office and return the demand by saying they'd rather continue working remotely, every business in the nation is going to have to embrace radical change to their workplace strategies.
Why? Because the demand for workers is high. In fact, it's a buyers market for jobseekers, and employees have all the power. Everyone knows that so many businesses are having trouble finding and keeping employees at the moment. That equates to an abundance of jobs. And if Company X insists on its employees returning to pre-COVID behaviors, they're going to have trouble finding staff to occupy seats.
You might be asking yourself, "How is this possible?" The answer is very simple. A large portion of the workforce discovered something very important over the past year—the freedom working from home brings: spending the day in pajamas, working from the home office, enjoying the creature comforts of their own surroundings. Middle and upper management might not place much importance on that, but when you've migrated your job from the less-than-personal, sterile office space and into the perfectly comfortable and personalized home space, there's a comfort and ease that comes along with it. And no matter how hard the business tries, it cannot recreate that environment in an office.
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And it's not just the comforts of working in your own space. It's also the flexibility and the relaxed nature of working away from the eyes of management. That's not to say employees want to be able to get away with things they couldn't do in the office (although that does play a part of it), there's a certain level of feeling like your own boss that comes with remote working. That's especially true with businesses that allow remote workers to work at their own pace. People tend to be more productive when they enjoy that level of freedom.
This brings me to one of my bigger points: So many in the workforce have had a taste of that freedom, and they aren't going to want to let it go. And given how we are existing in a buyer's market, employees are fully aware that if their company demands they return to the office, there are options—a.k.a. other jobs. And that freedom of choice (on every level) has become exponentially more important than remaining loyal to a company that cannot seem to accept the idea that "people over profit" has become the mantra for a vast number of workers. That translates to businesses of all types having to embrace the radical idea that employees now have more say in the terms to which they will accept.
- People want to work from home.
- People want more control over their schedules.
- People want to feel like they have a say.
- People know there's always a bigger, better deal just around the corner.
The lesson here is simple: Respect for the employee must be at an all-time high for your company, or you'll find yourself facing attrition as you've never seen. The silver lining is that, by understanding this and embracing these types of changes, your employees will be more more productive and loyal than ever.
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This is a win-win scenario... if you play your cards right. And it might seem as though you are giving over control to those who should have none, what you are actually doing is telling your staff that you trust them. And trust is a precious commodity in the world of business.
Things to consider
How you go about handing over that trust lies in the flexibility you extend to your staff. You should allow those employees to make certain decisions on how they do their jobs moving forward:
- Do they work from home, the office or a combination?
- Do they work a regular schedule or a flexible schedule?
- Do they use their own hardware or company-supplied?
- Will there be added compensation for working in the office or from home?
- Will you require remote workers to attend daily video meetings?
What the above list points to is that you (your company) have options. You can save money when employees work from home. You can get the best of both worlds, with some staff working in-house and others working from home. That kind of hybrid situation could allow you to actually get more work spread from morning to night (with remote workers enjoying a flexible schedule that would allow them to take time off during the day and work into the evening). You don't get that when 100% of your workforce is in the office.
So that radical change doesn't just benefit the employee. And although it is a buyer's market, it doesn't mean the sellers won't enjoy considerable gains.
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