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How employers can foster flexible work options during the pandemic and beyond

Even before COVID-19, demand for remote and flexible work options was on the rise in the U.S. In fact, nearly one in three workers say flexible work arrangements play a crucial role in narrowing their job searches , according to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report.

Given the social distancing mandates, many of these workers have now gotten what they wished for – and even more than they ever imagined. Unless they are essential front-line workers, most are now working full-time from home alongside their kids and other family members in the same boat. While these workplace changes won’t be permanent, many may be with us – at least intermittently – for the foreseeable future.

When this pandemic is over, one of the things it may leave in its wake is a lasting shift toward more telecommuting and work schedule flexibility. Employers may be wise to use their current work-from-home time to imagine what future work options might look like and how they might be designed to benefit businesses, workers and public health alike. Considerations include:

  1. Remote Work Options – Given the ubiquity of today’s video conferencing technologies and Internet-based management systems, employees’ physical locations are less important than their ability to perform efficiently and effectively. Because work-from-home options eliminate commutes, they can be especially appealing to employees with disabilities, school commitments, or family or other caretaker responsibilities.

    Remote work options benefit employers, too. For one thing, they ensure business continuity during inclement weather and other events – including global health pandemics. By offering part-time remote positions, employers also can widen their employee talent pool by tapping into a market of seasoned professionals who cannot commit to full-time hours. These part-time or flex employees can save companies time and money by performing certain roles, such as writing reports, preparing spreadsheets or completing special or temporary projects.

  2. Alternating daily schedules – A flextime approach gives employees the freedom to change their work schedules from one week to the next according to their personal needs. To help ensure flextime employees can participate in meetings and group projects, employers typically let them choose one of three schedules, each of which includes a core period when all employees are on the clock.

    For example, a company that offers an early bird 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule, standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or a slightly later 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., establishes 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. as its core meeting hours. Businesses can also consider four 10-hour days to allow for Fridays off, as well as other seasonal variations. Flex scheduling enhances morale while boosting productivity, both of which are helpful in retaining high performers.

  3. Communication tools – As many companies have already learned, a variety of communication tools are available to facilitate collaboration among remote team members. Skype, Zoom and Microsoft® Teams for example, offer video conferencing to help managers maintain face-to-face contact, while Slack offers instant messaging that organizes conversations into channels. These channels allow companies to organize communication among teams and ensure remote employees feel seen and heard. Because confidentiality and security are important, complete due diligence to make sure the technologies you choose offer the security features you require.

  4. Creating boundaries – In the current shelter-at-home environment, employees with younger children may be juggling their jobs with childcare and homeschooling responsibilities. That’s why it’s especially important to set reasonable time and communication expectations for remote employees. Today’s technologies tend to encourage round-the-clock access and an “always on” mentality. Fostering a healthy balance means honoring your employee’s full separation from work when their workday is complete or when PTO/sick days are used.

  5. Flexible PTO - Under a flexible PTO policy, you’re free to plan your time off with a high degree of flexibility and no preset limits like “2 weeks a year.” A flexible policy removes the need to classify the type of PTO (holiday, sick days, unforeseen circumstances, etc.) which reduces the amount of paperwork and accounting.

    If you’re concerned about chaos in this system, remember that requested time off still requires manager approval. Tools like a PTO checklist help employees complete and organize their daily tasks before handing off work to others. Employees also appreciate makeup hours for brief events (two hours or less) like doctors’ appointments in lieu of using PTO hours.

  6. Friyay! - Don’t forget to provide flexibility in the form of fun and self-care. For example, if winters are a slow production time for your business, offer Fridays off or the option to leave one to three hours early when possible. Another option is to dedicate one Friday a month to company-sponsored family or community activities — when social distancing is no longer mandated — like picnics, sports outings, museums or volunteering.

The Bottom Line: Flexible work options can improve productivity, reduce employee turnover, maintain business flow, and build a strong business reputation. Managers can help employees achieve work-life balance by instituting flexible policies and schedules that foster more balanced, healthy lives.

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