As companies grapple with their return-to-office planning and look to accommodate those employees who are thriving while working from home, HR has the opportunity to revisit telework policies. Critical, however, is that they do more than simply rewrite the manual.
That’s the upshot recent panel, “Envisioning the Hybrid Workforce: Prioritizing Wellness, Transparency, and Flexibility,”
conducted by Amy Rosen, socialspatial designer at PLASTARC, a social research, workplace innovation, and real estate strategy firm, and featuring participants from EcoAmmo Sustainable Consulting and the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), among others. The panelists shared perspectives on how to prepare people and policies for a workforce that might be largely working from home or splitting their time between home and office. Here are some takeaways from that conversation.
HR directors, operations managers, and other business leaders have long assumed that everyone needs the typical nine-to-five schedule. But not everybody works well that way, whether at home or in the office.
“Some people aren’t productive in the morning, and we’d like to have different work hours,” said Andrea Pelland, operations manager at EcoAmmo, a company that provides tools and services to educate the building industry about sustainable design. Recognizing and adjusting to this reality could be challenging for a company that has had the same practice for years. “It’s gut-check time for your organization to say, ‘How much do we actually value differences?’ It’s not enough to ask people what their preferences are. Change not only has to be reflected in company policy but embraced as part of the corporate culture, she added.
Toward that end, companies will need to commit to allowing for honesty and openness, as well. HR must create an environment where people can be honest and, for example, admit they like working from home, even if they’ve overheard their managers saying it’s “wimpy” of them wanting to do so, Pelland said. “It’s important for people to realize this isn’t about a couple of line items in your HR manual, this could be some pretty big cultural and change management opportunities for your organization,” she added.
Such change management opportunities have a direct relationship to employee productivity, as well as to wellness, Rosen noted. “It’s like the happiness and the engagement and the feeling of being listened to correlates to this direct return on investment,” she said.
Angela Spangler, director of market development at IWBI, which provides a global rating system for building wellness, shared her thoughts on how a renewed emphasis on wellness translates for WFH and physical office environments. As part of assessing work schedules, IWBI recognized that allowing some employees to start work later would give them more sleep time and, ultimately, make them more engaged while in the office or at home, she said.
The company also wanted to see a reduction in turnover and sick days. We're all going through a global crisis that has significant mental health implications on family and friends. Pre-COVID, companies looked to assess physical health, mental health, or social connection by saying, “Let’s quantify this in terms of hours and productivity,” she said. Through these tough times, Spangler believes that we must “put a financial number to why we should care about people’s mental health, physical health, and social wellbeing” because it’s not just about sitting behind a keyboard, typing, and producing output. “Trying to hold on to those we value as an individual can be kind of a guiding voice through this really strange time.”
At the end of the day, it’s vital for people to have a mindset of embracing and valuing differences, Pelland said. You can’t force people to work the same way in the same place; they have unique needs and demands, so you’ve got to get flexible. When you value people, she added, it’s unbelievable what you will get back in return, so view it as an investment in your culture, as well as the long-term retention, and investment of your staff.