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The year 2020 changed the way people think about how and where they work. Now that a return to the office is within sight, employees still expect to be able to work remotely, even if only part-time. In a recent survey conducted by Georgia Commute Options, employees in the Atlanta region expressed a desire to work from home an average of 3.2 days a week, citing benefits like the lack of commute, higher productivity and more time for healthy habits as key reasons why.

As companies craft their return to office strategy, what changes should they make to existing policies to meet these expectations for a hybrid work week?

To find out, we spoke with Elham Shirazi, Georgia Commute Options’ telework consulting expert. Elham has over 20 years of experience in remote work programs and has helped hundreds of employers create successful telework programs. She gave us some insight into what the future of telework might look like and how employers can develop effective strategies.

In 2020, remote work seemed to save the workday for companies who suddenly needed to keep their employees at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. What are some of the unexpected benefits we saw from this large-scale telework experiment?

One of the biggest advantages that we’ve seen is how managers have shifted their perspectives on telework and productivity. Before the pandemic, the biggest question about telework was, “How will I know if my employees are productive if they’re working at home?” And I used to always say, “Well, how do you know they’re productive in the office?”

When you look at how productivity is actually measured, often it’s based on your communications. It’s through phone calls, emails or the employee completing their deliverables. I think this period of widespread remote work helped us transition from managing presence to really managing productivity.

A lot of managers have also said in focus groups that they had to become more organized so they could tell their employees what they need. This has, I think, improved the work dynamic between managers and their teams.

Working remotely during the pandemic certainly came with its challenges. How can companies address these now and in the future?

First, I want to emphasize that “pandemic telework” is much different than normal teleworking. Some of the most pressing pain points we’re experiencing now will eventually go away. With the pandemic, not only did employees go home, but so did everything else. People are working while also taking care of their families and other at-home responsibilities.

In the future, we expect to see a lot of these extra pressures lessen. That will likely mean that many of the biggest pain points that we’ve seen, like fatigue and work trickling into the home life, are not going to be happening to the same extent.

Companies must consider the resources employees will need when we’re asking them to complete their work

For example, one of the issues that companies will need to address is access to equipment. If somebody doesn’t have the proper equipment at home, employers will need to be mindful of what work they can ask an employee to complete and provide proper equipment, as needed.

Another part of the equation is if somebody doesn’t have the space to work in their home or they just don’t want to work at home. There should be some other options available to them. Hoteling is a great solution where not everybody is there at the same time, but employees are able to use shared equipment and drop into the office when it makes sense for them.

Ultimately, I really do think there are going to be some revolutions in terms of what employers will be expected to do to support their workforce and what will need to be included in a telework policy.

Looking forward, what should companies think about when it comes to telework and their workday policies?

Before the pandemic, a lot of people started teleworking without any training. Training for managers and employees on company policy and how to navigate this new way of working will be essential going forward.

One of the tools that we have found to be very successful is having discussion groups with employees and with managers to identify what challenges they faced under the pandemic and consider how they can avoid those challenges in the future. Georgia Commute Options can help facilitate these discussions.

Where should companies start when developing a telework policy?

There are two key functions of a telework policy. First, it makes the rules of engagement clear to both the employee and the manager. For example, a policy can help you create an assessment process that takes into consideration job duties and performance, employee readiness, technology access, manager training and preparation, and more.

Doing this can help organizations establish telework as a a workplace strategy rather than a perk or privilege.

Second, when developing a telework program, you also have to keep in mind that not everyone can or wants to telework. That’s where other commute options programs and flexible work hours can come into play. As an example, someone may not be able to telework, but maybe they can work four 10-hour days and have the fifth day of the workweek off. People who need to travel to the office can take advantage of incentives and win prizes by tracking their green commutes with Georgia Commute Options.

Bottom line: Make sure telework is part and parcel of your solution, but you should also have other options in place for your team.

Do you need extra support as you put together your telework program? Georgia Commute Options offers telework and flexwork consultations at no cost to companies and organizations in the Atlanta region. Get started by emailing Georgia Commute Options:

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