LEHIGH VALLEY INTER REGIONAL NETWORKING & CONNECTING CONSORTIUM

Focus & Trends in Business

Remote Work – Counting the Costs

By: Donna Cornelius, CEO/Executive Director, LINC & Andrew Brown, HR Business Partner, Nixon Power Services

Working remotely in COVID

We are still here and the new norm is to work remotely from home. As companies make shifts in how they are conducting business and who is onsite and who is remote, it seems work and life are in a state of flux. But what is the long term impact? 

The McKinsey foundation conducts regular conversations with executives. Most recently the discussion of company success is being identified with a focus on people-centric approach to internal and remote leadership.” (Covid-19 Implications for Business)

Corporate culture of every size business has had to make a shift to be more people-centric. If your business/organization is not sure how to make a shift, please connect with LINC and join our bi-monthly Diversity & Inclusion Roundtables (now virtual). We recently discussed what it takes to be inclusive when you have a split workforce of onsite vs. remote. Before we even jumped into considerations, we asked participants if they could choose one word to describe their current status of work experience – what would the one word be?  (Drum roll please). Here is the response:

Surprised? Probably not, but how do employers address the “challenges”, “changing”, “intense” and often “lonely” factors of your workforce? 

As the workforce continues to adapt and adjust to their new reality there are many considerations from both the business side and the employee side. And although we would choose to believe that all things are running efficiently, effectively for all, it is always good to take a step back and get some perspective. 

THE PERCEIVED BENEFITS VS. LIMITATIONS OF REMOTE WORK

Regardless of the size of your company or organization very few employers were prepared for the massive, immediate shift to remote work.  Many moved to predominantly remote work while others still continued to show up in the office place.

The question is: have you taken time to count the costs of in-person vs. remote workers. What do we mean by this? 

Hidden COSTS 

Does it cost a business more to provide an equal playing field in terms of technology supplies for stay at home workers? Some roles traditionally based in-office are now at home; instead of sharing a scanner and/or printer, people need their own. While manageable, these costs add up. If an entire team needs the same equipment it can lead to multiple hardware purchases that ordinarily would not be needed at all, and if the plan is to return to the office after WFH plans are changed, what do you do with all of the additional hardware?

This is only one facet of the costs and benefit analysis businesses and employees may be facing issues:

Productivity Upside

  • More work because of the gray line between work and home life
  • Employees are more productive with less commuting and more hours to work so why not?

Productivity Downside

  • More time working leads to quicker burnout, fatigue and resentment of the job
  • Employees are less productive with more distractions and interruptions at home. 

Employee Upsides

  • No commuting saving time which means they have more time in the morning for self-care without the stress of the rush to work.
  • Money saving on gas and clothing making the employee feel as if they have more money.
  • Lunch at home leads to less expenses as everyone adjusts. 
  • Flexibility in hours as they adjust to work from home, taking care of children, etc. 

Employee Downside/Limitations

  • The gray areas – where does work end and home life begin is a big issue especially for women.
  • Lunch at home at the desk leads to less movement.  People are not interacting so they work through lunch which could have personal and business ramifications.
  • Managing family and work has become a big stressor and burden for many families.  
  • Opportunity for more distractions through responsibilities and burdens of domestic life.

Business Upsides

  • Savings through less office supplies and utilities. No lights on is a large savings. 
  • Online and active vs. getting to work leads to an increase in productivity. 

The study found that working from home not only benefits employees by eliminating their daily commutes, it also increases productivity and leads to healthier lifestyles. It’s a win-win situation that workers relish for its flexibility – but often at the cost of their work-life balance.

https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15259-working-from-home-more-productive.html

Home Utility Costs

  • For individuals now running multiple computers, monitors, and screens at home, does the uptick in utility costs begin to take its toll?
  • This will mean more for lower-income employees as increases in these area have a more disparate impact, now being home for 8 additional hours can really make a difference

Physical Office Space

  • Moving from a private office or cubicle with person area to a home with potentially no designated office area, can be tough
  • A home without a designated office area could lead to setting up for work in a bedroom or a kitchen table; while manageable for some, this could be quite tough for others
  • Shared spaces in homes can become extraordinary distracting for some individuals and cause hardship for work-time
  • High-earning employees are more likely to have large homes/living spaces and be able to accommodate an office, or transfer additional rooms into a more work friendly environment, lower-earning employees may be limited financially to have this additional square footage in their home

Internet Costs 

  • Disparity in internet speed, does it really matter? It certainly could. An individual with slower connectivity, or frequent drops in video calls and team interactions due to lower bandwidth and lower speeds, could be troubling
  • When thinking of who to reach out to for a solution, an individual with reliable internet connection could become the defacto person, simply due to their connection, not based on their expertise
  • Does an employee’s respect in the team suffer due to the less than ideal internet quality? 
This is not an exhaustive list, but you get the point. In order for companies to create a people-centric, inclusive and equitable culture it will require a shift to a space that leads to your employees feeling safe, successful, trusting, engaged and equitable. Which was the second question to choose one word to describe their desired work experience.

As you consider the costs, how do you move into creating a desired work space (see word cloud number 2). We know that there is a new twist on work/life balance with Covid-19. So it is critical to create a work/life balance especially for those working remotely with children, limited childcare and potential home-schooling.

Yes we said it “balance.” Now more than ever it is critical to achieving this desired work space and culture. If that is hard to wrap your head around or swallow the balance pill, perhaps we consider the phrase work/life integration. The concept is create synergies vs. trade-offs as companies and organizations work to be inclusive.(1)

Solution

Here are some ideas on how to create a desired workspace based on the second word cloud.

Safe

What does safe mean to you or to your employee base? Is “safe” different for different people? What can we control about a “safe” environment? Obviously not everything, but certainly some things! Being valued, being heard, and feeling “together in this” are a few key things that are very actionable items for you and your teams. 

  • Allow for flexibility if possible and communicate this.
  • Being up front about expectations; communicating them early and often can allow for a sense of understanding and stability. 
  • Have dialogues to discuss timelines and let your team know what is important . Then you can start helping the employees know what they need to prioritize and what to accomplish at certain times. 
  • Let your team members know that their efforts matter! People are working hard while juggling many things at work and at home.
  • Let managers and executives be vulnerable, be open, and tell people what is going on in their lives, it may be different, but it helps!
  • Give avenues for employees to give feedback and share their thoughts, feelings, and concerns (surveys, quarterly/yearly conversations, open forums)

Did you notice the common theme throughout here? It’s COMMUNICATION! Talk early, talk often, talk candidly. Listening to your employees is key. Individual one-on-one conversations with HR or leaders can be helpful to get a pulse on how the organization is doing, but it cannot stop there. As Ted Nicholas said “Knowledge without action, is like having no knowledge at all!”.

Resources:

  1. Forget Work Life Balance: Its All About Integration In the Age of Covid-19

15 Questions About Remote Work Answered