Working from Anywhere to Persist After Pandemic

By Paul Bergeron August 25, 2021
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Working from Anywhere to Persist After Pandemic

​The SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2021 in Las Vegas and virtually, Aug. 22-25. Photo credit: Amit Dadlaney.

LAS VEGAS — The percentage of employees who are working from home—or anywhere other than their usual workspace—has grown immensely. Pre-pandemic, only roughly 2 percent of the U.S. workforce was working remotely; by May 2020, that number had risen to close to 70 percent.

While these percentages may come down post-pandemic, the effects of prolonged remote work will be long-lasting, said Johnny Campbell, co-founder and CEO of Social Talent, based in Dublin.

On Wednesday at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2021, taking place in Las Vegas and virtually, Campbell broke down myths and trends about remote work and offered strategy suggestions in a session titled "What Is 'Work from Anywhere' and What's in It for Me?"

A large majority of companies today are including flexible, remote and hybrid conditions in their employment policies. Now is the time for employers to decide what their policies will be, said Campbell, whose firm provides remote learning solutions.

When it comes to whether their company will offer remote-work arrangements, workers "want to know and need to know, and [employers] showing ambivalence is not assuring," he said.

Myths Debunked

Campbell said researchers estimate that roughly 40 percent of companies have the potential for work-from-home arrangements. Perhaps some would have thought that number to be higher, he said.

Whether a job is suitable for working from home or anywhere can depend on office locations and global geography. "In some places, it just makes more sense to allow it," he said.

Leading industries allowing work-from-home arrangements are finance and insurance, management, IT, and education; agriculture and construction rank near the bottom in feasibility.

Most people consider technology companies prime candidates for work-from-home policies, but more and more non-tech companies are joining the list, such as State Farm, Ford and Coca-Cola, Campbell said.

Remote workers' productivity has been debated, with many managers initially fearing their remote workers would slack off. Campbell pointed to a recent study by Upwork that showed 32 percent of supervisors found their employees to be more productive working from home, compared with 23 percent who said they were less productive. The remaining respondents indicated that their workers' productivity was about the same.

Some labor observers have suggested that allowing work from home or anywhere will enable companies to access far more talent, as its pool of candidates will extend well past the area near the office.

However, "it's not that easy," Campbell said. Companies have to consider "right to work" stipulations, time zones and compensation as employers report they are seeing the pace of hiring more accelerated than ever before, he said.

And there are workers' preferences to be considered, too. "Both 'fully remote' and 'fully in office' standards won't be tolerated by your staff," Campbell said. "Mainly remote" and "mainly in office" would be acceptable, he said.

There are so many different personal situations that you have to try to cater to them all, Campbell said. " 'Mainly in office' can work because employees will have the option to work some days from home, which helps them meet their individual needs," he said. " 'Mainly remote' can work because it gives the employees the option to come in for social or collaborative reasons."

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Six Major Challenges

Campbell said working from home or anywhere presents myriad challenges that employers and employees need to solve. He focused on six key categories, defined as P-I-S-T-O-L.

Performance. It's better to measure output rather than input. Supervisors need to show greater flexibility, not insist on a rigid 9-to-5 workday, and instead lean on trust, Campbell said.

Bosses should meet with workers ahead of time and agree on tasks and deadlines. Try setting quarterly goals defined by specific objectives, how they will be measured and when they must be completed.

Information. Collaboration can suffer because bosses can't simply tap the shoulder of a co-worker nearby. Companies need to clearly articulate their employee communication protocols so that workers know when it's appropriate to use Slack, e-mail, voice calls or videoconferencing. Let everyone know what constitutes "urgency."

"As a department [manager], you have to keep tabs on everyone," Campbell said. "It's not fun, but it's the price you pay for being able to work remotely."

Social. Isolation can weigh heavy on workers, especially for introverts. Some say it's more detrimental to their well-being than alcoholism.

Campbell suggested "virtual watercooler" gatherings to give workers some relief and the ability to fraternize with colleagues. Create a 12-month social calendar of events that employees can attend optionally. This way, they can plan for social engagement as they wish.

Time. Juggling workers in multiple time zones can be difficult. Technology can help greatly with this, Campbell said; use it to adjust company processes. Supervisors should consider recording Zoom videos that deliver guidance or perspectives and then sharing those videos with staff so they can watch when it's most convenient for them, he recommended.

Overload. Burnout is tracking at an all-time high as non-commuting workers are logging about three more hours per day than when they were traveling to an office. Managers need to set the behavioral standards—and what they do is more important than what they say. "If staff see their supervisors working into the early evening, chances are they will do the same," Campbell said.

Supervisors need to check in with their employees. Ask them, "How's your head, your heart, your health?" 

"It's amazing how much better employees will feel if they are just asked to share how they are coping," he said. "And make sure to give them ample 'recovery time.' "

Legal. When working with employees living around the world, keep in mind the currency used for compensation and what double-taxation rules apply. Will taxes be based on where the employee is working or where the company is located? This is an ongoing issue that has not yet been resolved in the United States.

It's advised to "offer the best pay to everyone," Campbell said. Within the U.S., there's an ongoing debate about whether pay should be based on where the employee lives, with those working in higher-priced markets being paid more.

Paul Bergeron is a freelance reporter based in Herndon, Va.

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