Many people agree that at least one good thing emerged as a result of the Covid pandemic—more flexibility in the workplace. While nearly everyone had to work from home in 2020 during the height of the outbreak, many people continue to work from home because they want to. In fact, the Census Bureau reports that the number of people working from home more than tripled between 2019 and 2021. And that number is expected to increase, affecting nearly a quarter of the workforce by 2025.
However, not everyone is jumping on the work-from-home bandwagon. For many, the obligation to work remotely during the pandemic created a sense of urgency to return to the office, where they could interact in-person with colleagues and clients and maintain a clearer separation between home and work life. The opportunity to work on-site reestablished feelings of normalcy, purpose, and social connection that were sorely lacking during isolation.
Importantly, the ideal workplace isn’t the same for everyone; thankfully, in 2023, it doesn’t have to be. What works for one person based on job responsibilities, logistics, and personal preferences may be completely different for someone else. Matching individual employees with the environment that is most conducive to their success increases productivity and enhances employee satisfaction.
A recent satisfaction survey of all RDI employees confirms this point. While many supervisors (40%), managers (39%), and agents (63%) said they preferred to work exclusively from home, a significant number of employees expressed a desire to work fully (25% of supervisors, 22% of managers, 17% of agents) or partially (35% of supervisors, 39% of managers, 19% of agents) on site. Not only did workplace preference vary, but so, too, did feelings about productivity and social connectedness.
This article will explore the importance of workplace flexibility, the benefits of different work environments for different employees, and the best practices to ensure workplace policy supports organizational success.
The Shift to Remote
First, let’s take a quick glance at that initial shift to remote work to contextualize this current trend. You probably remember the chaos of it all. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared we were in a pandemic, and almost overnight, businesses were forced to close their doors, which created significant logistical challenges.
For one thing, technology was an issue. Many employers didn’t have the technology available for a seamless transition—the laptops, noise-canceling headphones, headsets, etc., that employees would need to work effectively at home. There were also gaps in high-speed internet services, cloud-based tools, and live stream platforms.
Another challenge was structure. What did work from home look like, and how could employers maintain optimal performance? This included important questions about how to keep employees accountable, measure productivity, offer training and professional support, and foster emotional connectedness and well-being.
Here at RDI, flexibility was key to weathering the storm that was March 2020. We successfully sent 2,500 employees home in seven days on a temporary remote-desktop solution, which allowed our agents to keep working. In fact, outside of illness, zero production hours were lost as a result of the shift to remote. Our agents felt safe and could still make ends meet, which was crucial during the unemployment spike in the second quarter of 2020.
Fortunately, like many other businesses across the country, RDI was able to make adjustments that positioned us for success. Within 60 days of the initial work-from-home mandate, RDI moved to a permanent, more secure remote solution. We created production systems and workflows to manage tasks. We adopted new technologies to aid communication and collaboration. Now that the pandemic is over, our infrastructure is firmly in place for remote work, and we are able to leverage our flexibility to optimize productivity and employee satisfaction.
However, we intentionally match our employees with the workplace environment that is right for them. It’s less about having rigid policies and more about having the flexibility to make good decisions.
The recent shift to remote work has obvious benefits to the workers themselves, who can now do their jobs from the comfort of their homes, have more flexibility with their work schedule, and skip the stress and cost associated with commuting every day with a hybrid work style.
At RDI, the majority of agents work either entirely (53%%) or mostly (4%) from home, with 71% of remote workers indicating that they prefer it that way. This population believes they are more productive at home (70%) and that they feel more connected (42%) or equally connected (44%) to their coworkers.
These results align with other studies in which employees cite job flexibility as having a “huge” or “positive” effect on their overall quality of life, allowing a healthier work-life balance and reducing some of the work-related stresses such as commute time, work distractions, and the discomforts of working in an office.Though emotional connectedness often goes down as a result of working from home, the effects can be more positive if workers feel they have emotional support and positive social interactions outside of the workplace, either with colleagues and managers or with other friends and family in their social circle. For instance, RDI employees who worked from home felt the company’s ELLll Well initiative made them feel more connected.
Other benefits of remote work for employees include:
- Less money spent on gas, car maintenance, lunches out, and work clothes
- More time for things like exercising or sleeping later
- A quiet, comfortable work environment
- A more personalized workspace
- The flexibility to travel
- The ability to be home with children, aging parents, and pets
Of course, working in person also has many benefits, including real-time conversations with colleagues and more direct support from managers. A significant number of agents indicate that they prefer to work entirely (17%), mostly (3%), equally (7%), or at least partially (9%) on-site.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that while some employees feel more productive at home, others feel more productive on-site because they face fewer distractions and are able to focus more fully on key tasks. Other benefits of working on-site include:
- More opportunities for collaboration
- More immediate job support and training
- A deeper sense of social connectedness, especially as new employees are hired
- Clearer boundaries between work and home life, which can be beneficial to increase mental health and prevent burnout.
There are some obvious benefits to employers when workers are on-site. It’s easier to manage, evaluate, and motivate employees who are right in front of you. You’re more likely to notice activities that might jeopardize performance, and it’s much more convenient to provide consistent oversight and training. It can also be more cost-effective to have employees use on-site equipment rather than providing each individual with the necessary technology for their home office.
Perhaps more surprising are the benefits to the employer when team members work from home. Aside from the cost savings from overhead expenses, employees who work entirely or mostly from home are often more productive than their on-site counterparts. In the RDI survey, 70% of employees said they were either much more or somewhat more productive at home.
That might seem counterintuitive, considering there is less oversight when employees work from home, but studies show that employees actually take fewer breaks when they are at home and that they get more done throughout the day because it is quieter and they have fewer distractions. They also have a longer workday.
Another important benefit of remote work is the access employers have to a much larger talent pool. No longer do they have to recruit (or relocate) employees who live within driving distance of the office. Remote workers can live anywhere and still provide significant value to your organization.
Best Practices: Hybrid Work
Of course, there are some potential pitfalls to allowing employees to work from home. Most importantly, not everyone is cut out to work from home, either because of their personality or the atmosphere of their home office, so it’s important to set up employees for success and to recognize when a change is needed. RDI uses the best of both worlds to ensure our clients and employees are satisfied with our hybrid work-from-home model.
Our work-from-home model establishes personal connections and enhanced performance through in-person training before an agent shifts to remote work, and afterward, performance is monitored regularly. We’ve experienced high levels of productivity and employee engagement for several reasons:
- Training, nesting, and early production require an on-site presence.
- Agents generally work on-site for 30-90 days before they can shift to remote work.
- Agents qualify to work remotely only if they meet KPIs.
- Agents must provide documentation that they have a quiet workplace at home with reliable internet access.
- Remote agents who struggle to meet key metrics for more than 30 days will return to on-site production and have the opportunity to create a performance improvement plan.
- We move individual agents as well as full teams to on-site production at the client’s request.
Every job is different, just like every team member is different, so figuring out what works might take some trial and error. However, given the benefits to productivity, emotional connectedness, mental health, and overall employee satisfaction, providing workplace flexibility is well worth the effort.
“What we’ve found is that it’s the balance that makes the remote work option a success,” said Kelcie Best, VP of Operations. “It’s not just one way or the other.”