Remote Work, Quality of Life & New Horizons

13 September 2020

It’s hard to say at this point how we’ll look back on 2020 in the years ahead. There’s just too much in play to know in the present what lessons and challenges will stand out more than the others. But one thing is certain: for many, it’ll be the year of remote work. Professional sector employees numbering in the millions who, on New Year’s Eve 2019, had planned on another 11½ months (assuming two PTO weeks) of daily commutes found that stretch cut down significantly beginning in the March/April timeframe. Many haven’t returned to the office since; others have returned only in a partial capacity.

The question is, will all of them return in anything like their full pre-COVID numbers?.

That seems unlikely. Even if we can safely assume that most will return to some extent, that won’t apply to everyone, and probably not all at once.

While business leaders in certain industries are now focused on the potential cost savings of a mostly remote workforce, they should also be mindful of how their employees are now reevaluating and entirely overhauling their previous understanding of what “quality of life” means in the 21st century. This calls for a purposeful conversation between executive figures, mid-level management, and HR teams.

And though some of the pre-Lockdown world may return within the coming months, the “always on” piece mentioned above could linger, especially if remote work policies remain mostly in place for reasons of safety or expense… or both. If so, companies will need to look intelligently at the matter, specifically with an eye on benefits, time off, fitness incentives (perhaps gym partnerships), and even nutritional counseling. Whether they realize it now or not, people will be looking for resources pertaining to their overall wellbeing. The quality of life matter will be a question on the minds of those who regard that as one of the lockdown’s under-explored side effects.

A good starting point is simple and honest communication. Start talking to your team members, employees, and colleagues about the role activity and time off play in maintaining morale. With uncertainty running rampant, many are simply happy to be employed and will be cautious about voicing time off or benefits questions. Initiate the dialogue both in the interest of individual wellbeing and to maintain a workforce whose members realize they are valued.

We’re all adjusting to circumstances whose outcomes we’re better off not trying to predict. But many real-time challenges brought on by safety-oriented public policies are plain to see. Those employed in the Human Resources field have it in their ability to influence company responses to those challenges, specifically where encouraging downtime, providing fitness benefits, and setting clear “office hours” is concerned.

Think on your own organization’s policies as they pertain to overall employee wellbeing. Is there an urgent need to retool the pre-lockdown structure? Can you think of a good place to start?

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