Rethinking Assumptions About How Employees Work
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Organizations have implemented changes that once felt impossibly far off:
Although managers in the past year and a half opened up to the idea of having people work from home, many still harbor doubts about its effectiveness.
Some jobs can be done just as productively at home — such as coding or writing. Highly motivated workers are more likely to thrive outside of a supervisor’s direct vision than others. Jobs measured by output rather than input are more amenable to remote work. Other jobs will require more thought about where they can be done and why they are designed the way they are.
Unfortunately, many HR organizations thrive on standardization. The concern is that special treatment, such as offering benefits that differ from what’s offered to others in the same role, can open the door to favoritism and bias, neither of which is acceptable.
However, companies have always made exceptions in special circumstances. What’s new is that now organizations need to recognize the need to give everyone special treatment, within boundaries.
The one-size-fits-all approach also fostered a culture of hiding. People would take the flexibility they needed and hope they didn’t get caught. At best, the hiding was stressful. At worst, it could encourage a culture of dishonesty or disrespect.
To access top technical talent, companies opened offices near universities or in cities known for their high-tech cultures (and often their high costs of living). Others located in areas focused on their industries, such as fashion in New York or finance in London.
The past year has begun to call that assumption into question. Engineers from high-cost, high-density locations like San Francisco and Seattle found that they could work very effectively from other cities and even small towns, and many do not want to return. Companies found that they can access talent well beyond their commuting zones if they are willing to allow remote work.
It was common well before the pandemic. Employees did their day jobs and then worked other jobs part-time to earn extra money or pursue their passions.
With staff members in the office and using company computers, it was reasonable to assume that work happening onsite was mostly related to the company. When employees work remotely, the challenge becomes more complex.
The point is not to mistrust employees. Rather than installing Big Brother-like monitoring, it is far better to design jobs to make productivity more transparent and then ensure that employees find the work meaningful.
It is essential to balance the preferences of employees with the needs of the company. You are paying people to work, and you need to ensure that investment pays off.
However, recent years have shown workers that they do not need to follow work rules that were established before the internet. The most talented and productive people have more flexibility in whom they want to work for and are thus more demanding about the conditions they want to work under. People in all occupations are questioning whether to accept work conditions that feel unnecessarily stressful.
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