What the Pandemic Has Taught Us About Work (from Home)

Flexible scheduling and remote work are here to stay—handshakes not so much.

Early in the pandemic, I interviewed with an organization for an opportunity. I was somewhat bewildered when the recruiter emphasized several times that the role was full-time in the office. It struck me how difficult it is for some organizations to understand the potential win-wins in allowing flexible scheduling and at least some remote work, not just now but after the pandemic.

One Manager’s Real-life Experience with Remote Work before the Pandemic

I like to think I managed a remote team before it was cool or necessary. At the time, I was a senior manager for a national corporation with offices spread across the United States. Because of the fact that my team supported three time zones, our team coverage hours were 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., ET. Finding employees to cover evening shifts in the eastern time zone, where management was located, was a challenge.

For a while, we got by with a single employee who happily worked 11:00-8:00 with teammates stepping up when he was on vacation or sick. Eventually, however, his personal circumstances changed. And rather than lose a great employee, I decided to get creative. I offered up the possibility of working the evening hours from home, and suddenly multiple employees volunteered. Even better, the team was willing to split up days of the week to provide full coverage without overburdening any employee. And as employees tend to do, they took the concept further and asked if they could split the day and work morning and evening with a long break in between. I realized it was a win-win for both the company and the employees. They could use the long break to schedule doctor’s appointments and run errands, and the company was getting the work and coverage we needed from happy and engaged employees who knew they were part of the solution.

And before you ask, yes, flexible scheduling and remote work created more work for me and the leaders reporting to me. We all had to work a bit harder to stay in touch and schedule face-to-face time. And I adjusted my hours to work later if emergencies cropped up as they tended to do. But I saw the tradeoffs of lower turnover and higher engagement far outweighed those logistical challenges.

Righting the Disproportionate Effects of the Pandemic

Interestingly, the majority of the employee population in the company and on the team at the time were women—who by all accounts have been disproportionately affected by the demands of balancing careers, child care, and eldercare during the pandemic. As Smithsonian Magazine points out, “…as children returned to (virtual) school and daycare centers remained closed, more than 1.1 million people dropped out of the labor force. As the National Women’s Law Center reports, 80 percent of these individuals—classified as those no longer working or looking for work—were women.”

Combined with the social inequities screaming for our attention during the pandemic and civil unrest of the past year, the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on working women makes flexible scheduling an important part of any corporate diversity, inclusion, and equity plan and practice that can no longer be overlooked.

Combined with the social inequities screaming for our attention during the pandemic and civil unrest of the past year, the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on working women makes flexible scheduling an important part of any corporate diversity, inclusion, and equity plan and practice that can no longer be overlooked.

Hiring and Retaining the Right Person for the Role

After a few years of managing a team with virtually all employees working remotely some of the time, an employee wanted to make a move to another city where we had an office. And then, a second employee informed me of a move again to another city where the company also had an office. As both were stellar employees who had shown discipline and quality work, I had no problem offering them the opportunity to continue working for the company and the team remotely. Happily, they accepted, illustrating that remote work allows us to hire (or retain) the right person for the role, not limiting us to the right person in the right region for the role.

Making the Most of Pandemic Technology and Process Investments Post-Pandemic

Eventually, my management team and I decided to float a formal proposal to make our team a fully remote team. We would maintain a few work stations employees could share on days in the office when they had meetings or needed to collaborate in person. The team was enthusiastic with only a few who expressed that they still wanted face time in the office while all wanted some remote hours. And the real estate analysis laid out substantial savings.

The company’s CEO approved our proposal on a trial basis. Our employees packed up their laptops and monitors and headed home. A week later, the CEO simply changed his mind. As it was explained to me, he’d never really been comfortable with the idea. Fast forward to the pandemic, and that same company touted its ability to have a fully remote workforce across the United States on social media.

In the years between my team’s proposal and the pandemic, the company had made significant investments to research technology and processes to prove out remote work—a project I was thrilled to contribute to—and I’m sure that CEO is very glad he came around.

After the pandemic, we will all be clamoring for the social aspects of interacting face-to-face with our coworkers or, more likely, mask-to-socially distanced-mask (minus the handshakes and high-fives.) I, for one, miss bouncing ideas off of my coworkers and building off of theirs. There are certain pre-pandemic benefits of proximity as this Fast Company article lays out. But, even after citing multiple scientific pre-pandemic studies showing that collaboration increases with physical proximity, the article’s authors chose the spoiler title “The Office as You Know It Is Gone.” Why yes, yes it is. And I’m glad I had a head start.

Allowing those technology investments and learnings to fall to the wayside after the pandemic when there are such clear benefits to flexible scheduling and remote work is a waste. And technology will only get better as it has at speed during the pandemic.

Recap of Flexible Scheduling and Remote Work Benefits

In summary, here are the benefits I noted when managing a team with flexible schedules and remote work before the pandemic:

  • • Increased teamwork (Note: my team was made up of experienced professionals. Employees had already established relationships; I refer to teamwork as providing coverage for each other and covering for work during breaks, etc.)
  • • Increased employee engagement
  • • Lowered turnover and recruiting costs
  • • Potentially lowered real estate and facilities costs

And post-pandemic:

  • • Flexible scheduling helping to right some of the wrongs the pandemic created for women and minority employees
  • • Opportunity to keep reaping benefits of technology and process improvements

Nelida Ruiz is a marketing and business development consultant and coach helping business owners maximize thought leadership with blogs, articles, and social media. For more of her work visit www.nelidaruiz.com

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