Some interesting surveys focusing on employee work experience from home and their work preferences were conducted in the later phases of Covid-19. Especially one by EY summarised as this: “More than half of employees globally would quit their jobs if not provided post-pandemic flexibility.” This survey reflected on the views of more than 16,000 employees of multiple industries and professions across 16 countries. In this study, the flexible work arrangements in where and when they work are the preference of nine in ten employee respondents. On average, the surveyed individuals would want to work between two and three days remotely after the pandemic.
This confirms the results of the survey of 145 employees of 30 different professions, and residents of 18 different countries that I had conducted in May 2020. In Mitigating risk of negative productivity shock in the post-Covid-19 normalisation phase – Remote Work as a Viable Option for the Post-Crisis Era, published as part of ESCP Business School’s ”Managing a Post-Covid19 Era” impact paper series, I explained that the analysis of the survey’s results shows that the experience of working from home with established new work habits and daily routine during a relatively long period of the Covid-19 lockdown shifted employee preferences toward more flexibility at work arrangements.
A negative productivity shock risk
Based on the results of my survey, I argued that the Covid-19 confinement generated a new productivity-enhancing working pattern. I also noted that the relatively long lockdown period had enabled employees to establish a daily routine of working from home which can now be difficult to be swiftly reversed. I highlighted the risk of a negative productivity shock, in a scenario where planning for the return to pre-Covid19 work arrangements did not incorporate a sufficient transition period allowing for a gradual adjustment of employees’ working patterns developed during the lockdown.
To minimise this risk and preserve the gains resulting from employees’ effective transition towards working fully from home, I recommended the adoption of a flexible approach to working arrangements in the initial phase, and then a gradual adjustment reaching an optimal work formula:
During the deconfinement period, I recommended to limit employee time required in the office to a minimum necessary for critical tasks, which cannot be executed remotely. I believed it was important that during this period employees remain supported by employers in ways indicated by the survey respondents as supporting the efficiency of their work. Given their motivating and productivity-enhancing impact, I recommended clearly-defined tasks, precise deadlines and expectations, regular team catch-up video-calls with colleagues and managers, as well as regular feedback from line managers.
A flexible and gradual return to pre-Covid19 work arrangements
In the normalisation phase, once the Covid-19 pandemic is over and no health and safety related risks are present anymore, I recommended the following framework for an effective return to work. As a starting point, a detailed analysis of all job posts, detailing tasks that can be carried out exclusively from employer premises and those that can be carried out remotely, should take place. Combined with other considerations, this should define the extent to which employees’ physical presence is required in employer premises. If it is possible to carry out some work-related tasks from home, employers should analyse employees’ preferred home/office work balance and to agree to an effective work plan on an individual basis.
In the initial phase of the normalisation, employers should temporarily offer increased flexibility to employees in deciding about home/office balance, followed by a gradual increase of the office work time (over a number of weeks) until it reaches the number of days/office work time a week that the employer considers as effective for the organisation.
Managing performance will remain of crucial importance
In addition, given increased reliance on working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, which, in my opinion, is likely to continue once the pandemic is over, managing performance will remain of crucial importance.I thus recommended that employers maintain regular performance appraisals. Increasing the frequency of appraisals may be required, in some instances. The performance results should be the basis on which employers could consider adjusting work arrangements on case-by-case basis in the long run.
While I listed numerous advantages of working from home throughout my impact paper, in my opinion home should not be the only workplace, as there are important advantages to working at least partly from office/employer premises.
I expect that when following the proposed process, an optimal office/home work balance will naturally emerge in the long run across different industries or functions, representing the most effective approach to work delivery, taking into account business requirements and employees’ preferences with regards to home/office balance.