SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.
Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.
As more offices reopen, how should I approach my employer about asking for more flexibility? Can I ask for a four-day workweek, flexible hours or even some work-from-home days? —Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: That is absolutely a fair question to ask. As we emerge from the pandemic, flexible and remote work models are top of mind for employers and employees alike.
Keep in mind a year of telework has not been a boon for everybody. Many organizations reported drops in productivity as remote work was thrust upon them. Some employees struggled to maintain work/life harmony with the workplace being extended into their homes. So be ready to weigh the pros and cons from multiple perspectives.
As you prepare to approach your people manager, consider the type of work flexibility you seek and the reasons behind it. If you have been working remotely, build your case around how it has positively impacted your work. If not, propose in detail your strategy for maintaining or improving work performance with your desired flexible work option.
Highlight your personal challenges and how they connect to your productivity. While I can't speak to the exact circumstances you're facing, many workers cite difficulty with child care, commute time and general work/life balance in pursuing flexible work solutions.
The pandemic has forced organizations and the workforce to expand the concept of what the modern workplace looks like. In fact, 20 percent of employers are planning to permanently adopt remote work for many of their employees. You aren't alone in your thinking, as research shows most employees prefer flexible work arrangements.
Don't be surprised if your employer is already developing a flexible workplace policy. With shrinking unemployment and an accelerating economy, benefits like telework and flexible schedules are critical to attracting and retaining top-tier talent.
Ultimately, your company's decision hinges on job duties, business needs and workplace culture. Even if the response to whatever flexibility you request is no, you should still have alternatives. Your company's employee assistance program may provide guidance on child care issues. If you are looking to improve work/life integration, your employer may be able to help with managing your workload.
The bottom line: Don't hesitate to start this conversation around flexible work options. I hope you and your employer find a mutually beneficial arrangement.
I'm an executive at my company. I am looking to bring people back to the office in the fall. Aside from the obvious, what physical changes should I consider making to the worksite so it's as safe as possible? —Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I appreciate your commitment to creating a healthy and safe workplace as you prepare for workers to return to the office. Solutions to enhance workplace safety can range in scale from simple, practical adjustments to an elaborate redesign of the workplace. It starts with understanding the challenges and opportunities of your unique workplace.
Evaluate the logistics of your office space to adapt to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for fostering social distancing and a healthy environment. Consider how workers utilize the workspace and the areas they frequent. Erecting physical barriers with Plexiglas or clear plastic sheets divide workstations in place. Another option is to rearrange workstations to further distance employees.
Physical changes also help cultivate health and safety within the workplace culture by positively influencing office behavior.
Providing personal hand sanitizer and/or setting up hand sanitizer stations throughout the workspace prompts workers to sanitize their hands more often. Similarly, maintaining adequate levels of hand soap and paper towels in break rooms and restrooms will help to prevent the spread of germs.
Visual cues in high-traffic areas such as break rooms, hallways and elevators encourage employees to follow distancing and capacity guidelines.
To reduce germs spreading through water fountains, you could also consider installing a no-touch activation system to fill personal-use water bottles.
Make no mistake: Ensuring a safe workplace is a team effort, so continue to engage your workforce to find out how your modifications are performing. I hope this helps as you navigate returning to work and making your workplace as safe as possible.