The Work from Home Conundrum for Small Businesses
Our priorities have changed in the last couple of years. The impact of the pandemic has forced one and all to re-evaluate 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 that “can we allow our employees to spend more time being mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and friends”. I believe we sure can.
A flexible work culture allowing people to choose to partly work from home cannot address all concerns, however it certainly is a step in the right direction.
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”.
How can small business prepare to become a flexible and hybrid workplace?
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 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 remote work.
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 equals 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.
The 3 Step Process to Create a Hybrid Work Schedule
1. Revisit employee KPIs. It’s time to get back 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 based performance metrics.
2. Review the job descriptions (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.
3. Segregate tasks. Once you have the list of tasks ready for each role, segregate the tasks:
a. Tasks that need the employee to be physically present in the office (such as physical filing of know your customer (KYC) documents for new account opening, machine maintenance, packing goods for delivery etc.)
b. Tasks that need the employee to visit another location such as a client, a vendor, an event etc. (such as visiting a vendor to check product samples, attending an industry expo for physical products, measurement of a client’s office for interior design etc.)
c. Tasks that can be accomplished remotely (such as 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 rules for drafting a work policy. The classification of tasks helps 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.
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 employees 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.
Please note that there is no better alternative to team bonding than working together in close proximity. Hence, a common work in office schedule has to be planned. Employees need to spend time with each other at work to bond, familiarize with each other and maintain the company culture.
What other tips would you recommend for small and medium businesses? How can they provide a balanced and hybrid work schedule without compromising on work quality and output? Would love to read your views in the comments section.
P.S. This post was originally published on Business Management Blog.