After six months of working from home, many of us have settled into new routines and accepted that remote work is here to stay for a while with many experiencing a vast range of emotions.
Many of the challenges of our new work environments aren’t a result of the shift to remote work, the challenges employees were already facing have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The opportunity here is for leaders to use this unique moment to better understand their workforces to create a more supportive work environment based on individual needs.
WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT WORKING FROM HOME
Not surprisingly, many employees have expressed how much they love working from home due to:
- Better work/life balance: Without a commute, employees are spending more time with their families, cooking, exercising, reading and enjoying the outdoors. More flexible schedules allow them to take meaningful breaks throughout the day. Many have started taking midday walks.
- Increased productivity: Some employees simply prefer the comfort and convenience of their own homes. And without the distractions of working in an open-office setting, many have increased their productivity. According to McKinsey research, 41% of people currently working from home report they’re actually more productive than they were before the pandemic.
- New opportunities: The shift to remote work has opened up new opportunities for some employees and personality types. Introverts who were often overlooked in office environments have found they’re now judged on the quality of their work—not the volume of their voices.
- Finding hope: Many have found ways to practice gratitude and imagine a better future, resulting in a positive focus and hopeful outlook. Now that we’re not spending the majority of our waking hours in an office, we have the time and energy to do good. For example, adult children are offering support for their parents, spending more time caring for their needs and helping with household duties. Working parents are spending more time with their children, often assisting them with homework and serving as IT support for their school’s newfound remote learning practices. Time-pressed employees are establishing better exercise and mental health routines.
WHAT WE HATE ABOUT WORKING FROM HOME
Of course, there have been some drawbacks to working from home. Most are related to the pandemic—not necessarily the transition to remote work—but they’re still important for employers to take into account.
- Extra pressure and responsibility: Working parents are struggling with the demands of work and unexpected, full-time childcare. Many adults are taking on added responsibility to care for their aging parents—those in the age group most at risk for COVID-19—including grocery shopping, scheduling and attending doctor visits (often virtual) and procuring prescription medications, housekeeping, etc.
- Other people—either too many of them or not enough: Solo dwellers are feeling lonely and isolated under prolonged quarantine. On the other end of the spectrum, working parents and employees with roommates are feeling overwhelmed and distracted by all the activity in their homes.
- Coping with external events: Although we’ve had time to adjust to the reality of quarantine, most of us still sometimes feel overwhelmed by the scope and scale of the virus—and the changes it’s made to our daily lives. Additional external stressors, like social unrest and natural disasters from floods to wildfires, haven’t helped. It’s a complex range of emotions that can be hard to navigate, leading to an overwhelmed feeling that can be taxing on mental health.
WHAT EMPLOYERS CAN DO TO HELP
In general, most employees love working from home but dislike the sudden changes to work and life that have been experienced by so many in 2020, as well as the underlying issues the pandemic has brought to light. While employers can’t control the pandemic, they can use this opportunity to address many of the problems their employees face.
- Provide real flexibility. Working from home might appear to offer flexibility, but that’s not the case for everyone. Connect with working parents and other employees struggling to juggle additional responsibilities during traditional office hours. Explore solutions together that work for them and the team.
- Listen to your employees. Many employees are wary of sharing their current struggles—whether it’s feelings of isolation or being stretched too thin from the demands of childcare—in a time of economic hardship and job uncertainty. Anonymous surveys are a great way to gather candid feedback and ask employees specifically what they need from you.
- Acknowledge mental health. Continuously engage in mental health conversations with employees and make support resources available. Additionally, encourage employees to take time off to rest and recharge. They may not be able to travel anywhere, but we all need breaks from work.
Before focusing on the future of work, address the present problems your employees face. We’ll be working outside the traditional office environment for some time. And the employers that use this time to better support their employees will establish stronger workplaces for years to come.