Navigating Work from Home Expectations

woman carrying her baby and working on a laptop
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All recent studies and surveys highlight that employees want the flexibility to work from anywhere. A study by Owl Labs reports that “74% of workers say that having a remote work opportunity would make them less likely to leave a company”. “69% of millennials would give up on certain work benefits for a more flexible working space”. How can companies, especially small businesses navigate work from home expectations of their employees?

While most managers agree that having remote workers will become the new normal, they still have doubts about remote work and its benefits. This debate around allowing employees to continue working remotely has heated up amidst what has been termed “the Great Resignation”.

The Great Resignation

Dr. Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at the Texas A&M Mays School of Business, first coined the term “The Great Resignation” in his article “The Covid vaccine means a return to work. And a wave of resignations.

Microsoft in its “The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?” reported that close to 41% of the global workforce and 54% of Gen Z workers could be considering resignations. There are several reasons that could be attributed to this wave of resignations. Work-life balance is one of them and a major driving force.

The Case for Allowing Remote Work

The last two years of the pandemic are a proof of concept for remote working. Companies, small and large, were quick to move work from office cubicles to our living rooms. Contrary to what many believed, employee productivity and the quality of work did not suffer. Some even report that remote employees are more productive.

Higher Productivity? Check

Quality of Work? Check

Better work life balance? Check

Employees are spending more time with their families and for their other interests with daily office commute out of the equation. People have been able to move back to their home towns with no need to stay in the same city as their office. We have technology to thank as new age communication tools, internet bandwidth, the range of personal computers and smartphones ensured almost zero disruption.

As employees continue to deliver the same quality and quantity of output if not more, it is quite evident why there is an increased vocal demand for remote working. The work from home expectations are certainly not misplaced.

How can small businesses navigate the work from home expectations?

We have had multiple news headlines in the last couple of months reporting large employers such as TCS and Wipro emphasizing on return of employees to office. Companies like TCS and Wipro are torchbearers in the Indian workspace. Their actions, considered to be best practices, are imitated by others. Small and medium enterprises are surely taking these announcements of return to office as a cue to decide the future of remote work for their staff.

This however is a sensitive issue and the decision will have long term consequences. It is also to be noted that not all employees would want to continue working from home. There are some who will like to return to office if given an option. Quite a few would prefer a flexible work environment, a mix of work from office and work from home.

Setting up the right expectations for measuring employee performance

I believe the major roadblock in convincing employers to consider remote work policies is the understanding and measurement of employee performance. What is the traditional measure of employee productivity and performance? Most small businesses do not have a transparent and objective scorecard to measure the ROI of human capital.

Time spent in office = productivity” is a myth that needs to be busted.

The nature of work has evolved in the last few decades. The success of all job roles cannot be measured as a factor of number of hours spent in office or at work. You cannot judge the effectiveness of a HR recruiter or a financial analyst based on the number of hours they work in a day. Similarly, a social media marketer’s or software developer’s success is not correlated to the time they spend on their computers.

Let’s admit that a lot of employers like to see their employees busy in office throughout the day. Employees vigorously typing on their keyboards, immersed in spreadsheets, hurrying through the office cubicles and haggling on the phone have become a measure of employee productivity.

This needs to change if small businesses want to build happy workplaces and address work for home expectations.

Define KPIs – the first step to address work from home expectations

It’s time to get to the drawing board. Get all stakeholders together and discuss the expected outcomes for every job role. Define relevant performance KPIs for each role. The performance metrics need to be a good mix of effort and result KPIs.

Revisit the job description – roles and responsibilities

Job descriptions have to be as detailed as possible. Do not copy and paste from several available on the internet. Think through the tasks you want each employee to accomplish to meet the KPIs listed in the previous step.

A good thumb rule is to check if each task can be rephrased in the “who does what by when” format. This makes the expectations clear and can be easily linked to the performance KPIs.

Segregate Tasks: What can be managed while working from home

Once you have the list of tasks ready for each role, segregate the tasks:

  • Tasks that need the employee to be physically present in the office
    • Examples: physical filing of know your customer (KYC) documents for new account opening, machine maintenance, packing goods for delivery etc.
  • Tasks that need the employee to visit another location such as a client, a vendor, an event etc.
    • Examples: visiting a vendor to check product samples, attending an industry expo for physical products, measurement of a client’s office for interior design etc.
  • Tasks that can be accomplished remotely
    • Examples: keyword research for increasing website traffic, creating and sending sales proposals, completing telephonic or video interviews for new job applicants, weekly team meetings etc.

Segregation of tasks in the categories listed above will give a clear measure of the time required by each employee to be physically present every week or month. This sets the ground rule on drafting a work policy. The classification of tasks helps the employees too. They get a clear understanding of what activities can be completed remotely and tasks that require them to be present in the office or any other work location.

This transparent classification of tasks and linking them to KPIs help a great deal to navigate work from home expectations.

Final steps in setting expectations and addressing work from expectations

The steps listed above will create a hybrid work calendar for each job role. They define who does what by when and where. Each employee and respective managers understand how much time or flexibility is permitted for remote work.

The division in office and remote work will thus vary for each department and job role. Try and make this division as uniform as possible for similar job levels. For example, can you manage to create a 50:50 hybrid work classification for all? It won’t help if some managers have the flexibility to spend 70% work hours working remotely while some others only get 25% remote work time. A more uniform division will create better team bonding as no one feels left out. This may need shuffling of certain job tasks. Seek the guidance of senior HR experts if you need help.

If you can, try and introduce additional allowance or incentive for working from office. This could be introduced in the next salary appraisal.

Conclusion

Please remember that priorities have changed. The impact of the pandemic has forced one and all to reevaluate their aspirations and preferences. This generation has survived major adverse events such as the global financial crisis of 2008 and the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Compared to previous generations, they have a greater emphasis on work-life balance, personal privacy and non-financial life goals.

We need to see the world through a different lens. The question is not whether remote work is here to stay? The question we must answer is can we allow our employees to spend more time being mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and friends. I believe we sure can.

By Nitesh Verma

Founder - Business Management Blog

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