COVID-19 flipped those statistics, with 44% of workers in April 2020 working remotely five or more days a week and only 34% never working remotely. During that time, laptops saw an increase in demand while technology services like Zoom and Microsoft Teams gave employers new or increased ways to virtually communicate with both remote workers and customers.
Employer’s and employee’s attitudes about remote work coalesce around the idea that most companies envision the move to a hybrid model. In practical terms, that means employees move in and out of shared spaces ("hotelling") in the office while spending at least some time working remotely.
This poses a challenge for Human Resource departments as they try to keep employee morale high. The following paragraphs describe options for boosting employee morale during (and after) COVID-19 for hybrid and remote workers.
Celebrate Achievements and Milestones
Humans have an innate need to celebrate achievements and milestones. We do it in our lives with weddings/anniversaries, graduations, birthdays, and holidays. In the workplace, individual recognition is also important and no less so for your remote workers. Most importantly, the recognition for remote workers should be a personal one. Recognize different lifestyles, cultures, and personalities. An introvert may hate a huge to-do about their milestone while the office extravert may despise a quiet "Thank You." It's important to think about who you are rewarding. The ‘how’ can mean something simple like a basket of treats with a gift card for good measure.
Improve Access to Resources
Work-from-home employees need extra help when it comes to tools and technology. This was evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when millions of workers were sent home to adjust to working remotely. They needed upgraded computer equipment and internet service. In a hybrid environment, security issues raised by remote workers will require an eye on their needs.
Just as important, the offer of wellness resources may help remote workers stay connected and healthy while they work away from the hustle and bustle of the office. Wellness resources range from the obvious mental health resource kits (outlining family leave, employee assistance programs, and Telemedicine access) to providing online counseling support.
Consider subsidizing healthy activities with a bonus that the employee can decide how to use in a way that matches their lifestyle. The healthy activities may range from yoga classes to gym memberships to apps that provide meditation assistance.
Increase Flexibility in Work Schedules
The switch to remote work thrust on the US by the COVID-19 pandemic gave employees even more reason to want flexible schedules. Parents were homeschooling their children, and younger, primary grade students required lots of hands-on attention requiring flexible arrangements. Remote work and flexible work schedules, including hybrid arrangements, permit workers to care for sick family members and take off for their own health appointments.
Flexible work schedules reduce employee stress levels. Flexible schedules mean a shift away from traditional 9-5 hours. Other options include:
Early/Late arrivals and departures
Choice in shifts
Sabbaticals and career breaks
Unlimited paid time off
Working part-time from home
The two policies employees value most are the flexibility to choose when they start/end a shift and being able to choose to work from home. In a recent survey, 26% said flexible start/end times were the most valuable. Another 22% picked working from home or another place as the most valuable.
Better Health Benefits
Health benefits proved their value during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider offering health-related benefits, such as:
A Professional Employer Organization (PEO) is in a unique position to help get your company better benefits. Employees gain access to health benefits typically provided by large organizations that they might not otherwise have access to with a small company. PEOs provide discounted employee health benefit costs, assistance with government compliance, regulatory guidance, and HR administration.
Improve Internal Communication
Working remotely presents challenges in keeping virtual employees engaged in work and the company culture. Tools that help solve these challenges include:
Team chat tools, such as Zoom for virtual meetings or Microsoft Teams where employees can chat and leave messages about various projects;
Project management software, such as Basecamp or Scoro;
Team collaboration tools, such as nStack, Slack, or Cisco's WebEx, to help employees feel and work as part of the team whether they are in-office or virtual.
The old-school practices are important, too. Don't forget that remote employees need virtual coffee breaks and happy hours with their work friends.
Best Foot Forward
Putting your best foot forward means being watchful for remote workers and in-office workers alike. They are not so different after all. All employees need:
Recognition of their value,
An emphasis on flexible health benefits,
Access to the resources they need to succeed in their jobs, and
Flexible working conditions that meet a balance of home life and work-life needs in the new normal.
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