--Companies can measure productivity on key metrics and compare work-from-home employees against those in the office, whether now or in the pre-COVID days. Those comparisons will allow a deep look into relative costs.
--Companies also need to explore cultural issues, which can be key to attracting and retaining talent. While values can be shared in written format, discussed in Zoom meetings and reinforced with remotely observed behavior, companies will still find it a challenge to develop a strong culture if team members don’t see each other in person frequently.
Like many others, I’ve written extensively about work-from-home issues in the last few years. At this point, most articles seem redundant. Rather than write another of those, I’d like to look at how work from home is evolving – both developing opportunities and creating pitfalls.
The advantages of remote work for both employers and employees are now well known. They include geographic and time zone flexibility and work flexibility for part-time employees, as well as the ability to reduce costs of physical locations for both parties.
At the same time, we also have come to see that disadvantages for work-from-home include increased difficulty in employee development due to less frequent supervisory contact, challenges with team building and other social benefits of in-person work and a decreased commitment of employer and employee to each other. The problems have shown up in “quiet quitting” and increased employee resignation rates.
While employers currently bear the brunt of the problem, I think that is likely to change with an economic downturn, not to mention technology improvements. I suspect employers will find they have more distant relationships with remote workers and will find it easier to let them go when times get tough.
How do you know if work-from-home is right for your business? It’s all about productivity, cost and culture.
Taking a Look at Productivity
As we think about pitfalls in the work-from-home evolution, we have to acknowledge that the utopian descriptions of its potential for a permanently new way to work may not be bearing the abundant harvest predicted by its earliest advocates. This, I think, is why many larger organizations like X, formerly Twitter, and the U.S. government are calling for or requiring a return to the office.
The principal reason large employers (and many smaller ones) are calling for a return to office work is a measured decrease in productivity. Despite workforce challenges, those employers that can carefully measure productivity, and have adequate talent recruiting capabilities, are compelling workers to put their pants back on and come to the office. Does this imply that all employers will do the same eventually? I do not know, but the question does point to the importance of measuring productivity. In a professional services businesses like insurance, employee cost measured against business revenue and profit is the key driver of success.
Whether you are a remote work advocate or not, work from home raises the useful issue of productivity.
See also: Has the Remote-Work Trend Peaked?
Diving Deeper Into Costs
A key challenge for every business in a relentlessly competitive industry is lowering costs. While technological innovations like artificial intelligence hold exciting promise, they aren’t fully realizable yet. Even when they are, how many activities each employee performs per hour or week still holds the most promise for affecting cost control. If a business doesn’t have a robust set of key performance indicators or isn’t comparing results over time (particularly between in-the-office and remote workers) an opportunity for improvement is being missed.
As a starting place for developing key performance indicators (KPIs), I suggest you look backward from the end of your process. For many in the insurance industry, this would be a sale. Then, ask what the milestones are. For example, in an insurance agency, an issued quote is a milestone, as is a completed submission. Indicators to measure, in addition to those two items, might include the number of closing attempts or number of lines of coverage sold. Then, with the KPIs established, look back into your business records for a year or two before the business moved to remote work to establish a baseline benchmark. You can then measure your results against a period of remote work and see how productivity was affected and what improvements might need to be made.
Obviously, businesses that started after the COVID era began have no pre-pandemic in-office benchmark. As a result, they have had to focus on creating processes that work regardless of where an employee is located. This is an excellent exercise for hybridized existing businesses to complete, as well. As you examine each process in the business, ask if changes need to be made to maintain or improve from your baseline benchmark. You may find that teamwork involving different time zones may allow you to improve some time-critical tasks like submission to quote to bind, for example.
Fostering Workplace Culture
Even with improved processes and reduced costs developed from the learning created by increased experience, companies still have to solve culture issues.
“Culture eats strategy for lunch” is often attributed to management guru Peter Drucker. But whether he first said it or not, culture is critical to business. Culture founded on a set of shared and constantly reinforced values is not just a key contributor to business success but is also a key contributor to attracting and retaining the best talent. While values can be shared in written format, discussed in Zoom meetings and reinforced with remotely observed behavior, companies will still find it a challenge to develop a strong company culture if team members don’t see each other in person frequently.
See also: Opportunity Now and in 2024
Looking Toward the Future
As the trauma created by the business disruption of COVID fades, businesses must increasingly ask the questions of whether remote work improves or impedes productivity and business results. As we enter, inevitably, into an economic slowdown and perhaps begin to see the productivity improvements of a generation of iterative artificial intelligence, business owners might no longer be held hostage to work-from-home demands. They could be in more of a position to call for a return to office. But ultimately whether remote work makes sense for both the business and the employee depends on progress and results related to productivity, cost and culture. The jury is out on those.