Working from home and why Covid-19 has been the catalyst for change.
The recent move to a Level 5 highlights that home-working is ongoing arrangement and a longer term reality. Some notable global companies have gone as far as to say that their employees can work from home for good.
Our current era of working from home has now superseded and made quaint the term “teleworking”. But that term was in vogue for long enough for the European Union to deliver the European Agreement on Telework as far back as 2002; this set in place the basic standard that people working from home are afforded the same protections as their fellow employees carrying out their work at the regular place of employment. In the USA, the Telework Enhancement Act, 2010, provides for a written agreement that requires a statement between the manager and their employee regarding the specific work arrangement agreed to, and stipulates that telework must not diminish employee performance. However, in keeping with its EU counterpart, it also provides that teleworkers and non-teleworkers are treated the same for the purposes of performance, appraisals, training, regrading, promotions, reassigning, reducing in grade, retention, and other aspects of managerial prerogative that impact on teleworkers.
All of the above makes for common sense. However, it is probably fair to say that this harks back to an era of more repetitive and standardised work which was more transactional than innovative. A phrase often uttered is that Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate, and this is borne out in the spread of working from home to a broad range of levels and functions in organisations.
From my years in executive search, the financial penalty of relocation for an excellent a career opportunity was often a disincentive for candidates.
Therefore, queries about “working from home one day a week” gradually became more frequent. Reactions from client companies were myriad, but there was an understandable reluctance to sell the idea internally; sometimes, but not always, due to a precedent being set. Time after time, the notion of occasional working from home came from the candidate, or had been voiced internally by existing employees. On the other hand, some companies had locked in employees who, once a few years on board, had requested and been granted the flexibility. There can be no doubt that the retention of scarce skills was a key factor in coming to such arrangements, as there is a strong intrinsic reward in meeting employee expectations in as broad a sense as possible, adding work-life balance to job security, reward and career prospects.
But now Covid-19 has changed everything and for many organisations working from home has moved far beyond the odd day or a day per week. Technology has been an enabler, but so too has trust. A small but prominent number of employers are now leading the way in changing the landscape of work. The foundation of this trust is the sense and employee experience that all the policies, processes and rewards will be as strong as under traditional work arrangements. It is essential that this trust is visible and lived.
For organisations, there is a future to be planned and shaped, and the planning for the future starts now. Employees will have preferences so there is a need for employers to think about the new world of meeting expectations regarding working onsite, from home, or a hybrid of the two.
The winners will be those employers who shape the future by listening to customers and employees - motivating the latter to satisfy the former in a hybrid world of work.