More than three years after many transitioned to working from home on account of the pandemic, employers are still trying to pinpoint where employees are most productive and how to optimize organizational performance. The COVID era gave rise to a variety of flexible work arrangements, and today’s competitive talent pool considers flexibility a benefits entitlement. On the other hand, many organizations find that culture and belonging are best developed when employees work together in the same facility and therefore continue to push return-to-office agendas. This blog will explore some of the issues employers should consider as they work to bring employee productivity and flexibility into harmony.
Making hybrid work
The prevalence of flexible work post-COVID has forced employers to think less about the value of hybrid work and more about ways to make hybrid work.
At the micro level, there are technical matters of organizational policy, regulatory compliance and risk managementto sort out. For instance, if an employee is accommodated in the office under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), what kind of job accommodations should they receive when working at home? The same might apply to an employee who sustained an on-the-job injury and transitioned back to work on light duty. Further, having peoplework in two different locations throughout their week — and possibly bringing equipment back and forth — ushers in a variety of liability issues with which employers must contend.
At the macro level, employers are being challenged to keep workers engaged and connected to the organizational culture — regardless of where they are located. This is especially important for younger workers and those whose tenure has only included remote or hybrid work. These groups are less likely to have had shared, in-person learning experiences, or the visibility and exposure needed to effectively navigate internal organizational structures. No matter where they’re based, highly engaged employees put in more discretionary effort and are supportive of their teammates, so building a sense of connection is critical to productivity.
Another important factor affecting productivity is employee mental health and well-being. Especially after the COVID pandemic, much of the workforce views flexibility as directly linked to achieving a healthy work/life balance. With many workers also serving as family caregivers, remote and hybrid work arrangements enable them to fulfill their job duties and be present for their children, parents or other loved ones. This kind of employer support helps workers feel valued and remain productive; work flexibility, in turn, promotes workforce well-being and talentattraction and retention.
But while employees appreciate the benefits of flexible work, they also crave the social interaction, belonging and boundaries between work and home that often come with being in an office. The isolation of remote work can be unhealthy for employees and organizations alike — and that’s why many employers are advocating for in-person collaboration at least part of the time. Some are even offering incentives, like transportation allowances, free on-site meals, bonuses and more, to come into the office. Hybrid arrangements aim to provide the “best of both worlds,” but for some employees and employers, the combination isn’t enough to meet their respective needs.
Organizations are trying a variety of tactics to help employees feel supported while working remotely or on their own schedules. Here are two trends worth noting:
- Priming front-line managers for team connections: Remote environments don’t naturally allow for chance encounters, casual conversations and interpreting body language. Managers must make the effort to listen to their employees — getting to know them, what’s going on in their lives and the challenges they may be facing. Managers showing genuine concern for their teams is a meaningful way of demonstrating how caring counts.
- Employee resource groups: As explored in a previous blog, ERGs (which Sedgwick calls colleague resource groups, or CRGs) provide valuable opportunities to forge new connections, gain a stronger sense of belonging, learn about diversity and inclusion, and network internally. Employers are expanding and promoting their ERG offerings, as they’ve taken on even greater significance in the world of remote and hybrid work.
Benefits are another avenue for giving employees flexible options that align with organizational productivity. Organizations are increasingly taking a “whole health” approach to taking care of employees through their benefit offerings.
Much of the remote/hybrid workforce finds it difficult to disconnect, as they’re often tethered to work via technology. (Despite concerns that people are doing less work at home, away from the watchful eye of in-person managers, many are actually working longer hours than they did in the office.) Paid time off is essential to helping employees avoid burnout, pursue interests they enjoy, and take care of personal and family needs. Employers benefit from supporting employees in taking time off in healthy and appropriate ways, as well as offering flexibility in how they use their time.
Benefit programs continue to evolve to address the wide-ranging needs of a diverse workforce. Whether it’s caregiver support, family planning resources, addressing chronic health conditions, mental health coverage or a variety of leave types, employers today seek to offer flexible and inclusive benefits that meet employees where they are and help them remain productive.
Many organizations are working to better coordinate and integrate their benefit offerings. This serves to promote utilization and tracking, as well as to improve the employee experience by making processes easier to navigate. Trusted partners and program providers can help employers support productivity and ensure consistency and regulatory compliance across jurisdictions and geographies without sacrificing flexibility for employees — especially for those working remotely.
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