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Not just a perk: Remote work aligns with new employee priorities

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By keeping transparent throughout the company, employees can see the full scope of the project they’re contributing to, creating a sense of community. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Before 2020, remote work was viewed as a key perk – something companies might offer to entice top talent. However, a recent report from GitLab, “Out of the Office,” showed only 1% of respondents would like to go back to the office. Additionally, three out of four respondents said they’re likely to stay with current employers if remote work remains an option. As the pandemic continues and slowly deescalates, companies will need to address new employee preferences. This means embracing remote work not as a necessity born of pandemic circumstances, but as an important part of employee retention and satisfaction.

Related: The hybrid workforce is coming: Here’s what you need to know

While this may appear to be a daunting prospect for companies currently planning for an uncertain future, it is pivotal that organizations of all sizes — from major enterprises to burgeoning startups — consider the benefits presented by remote work. Remote work allows employers to offer flexible schedules without a loss of productivity, empowers employees to optimize their lives around something other than a commute, and creates a culture that reinforces transparency.

Pandemic proven

In 2020, many found themselves working remote for the first time, and company leadership – from Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey to Capital One CEO Richard Fairbank – found themselves leading newly remote companies. Initially, many employers and employees were anxious about such an unprecedented shift in work culture. In the months since the mass migration to out-of-office working, initial concerns — mainly, whether workforces will be able to maintain productivity working from home on such a large scale — have been eased by the experiment’s success. 65% of respondents to GitLab’s latest survey said remote work has not impacted or has positively impacted their work.

Proven success during such a tumultuous time will not be soon forgotten by employees and should not go unnoticed by leadership. As executives decide the future of their companies, they should recognize that inflexibility in the workplace will be a dealbreaker for many employees. Rigid schedules and demands that workers return to the office part-time or full-time on a certain date will not be tolerated by today’s workforce. If employees can continue to successfully do their jobs remotely during the pandemic, they will certainly be able to continue that success when the worst tensions caused by COVID-19 have subsided.

Shifting priorities

Now that employees have successfully adapted to working on non-traditional schedules in fully remote environments, their priorities have shifted. To remain competitive, company culture needs to shift in tandem with these new priorities. Research shows that employees are focused on harmony in their life made previously unavailable when living decisions were largely determined by the length of their commute. This shift is the result of possibilities presented by remote work. For example, 37% of respondents said they’ve optimized their lives to spend more time with family or community, and just over a quarter of respondents said they’re streamlining schedules to reclaim more time in their days.

By enabling workers to stay remote and continue these trends, company leadership can positively impact their relationship with their workforce. As people optimize their lives for something other than a commutable distance to an office, they’ll associate the joy and belonging they find in being close to what matters to them — nature, family, community, hobbies, etc. – with the employer that empowered them to achieve said joy. Companies enforcing inflexible return to office policies may be faced with pushback from their workforce — even if said companies offer attractive office perks like a gym and quality snacks.

Belonging out of office

Remote work and an increase in employee belonging may sound paradoxical, but one of the tenants of a successful remote company — transparency — is fundamental to belonging. Companies looking to reap the benefits of remote work need to do more than simply allow everyone to work from home, they must also foster a company culture based around remote work. To do this, leadership teams need to concentrate efforts on encouraging transparency in the remote workplace. Focusing on this fundamental element will not only empower organizations to find business success, but it will also create a culture that actively reinforces belonging during everything from casual employee interactions to day to day operating procedures.

For example, GitLab’s commitment to transparency is curated throughout our organization. Leadership discusses their work and goals with the whole organization, this way folks recognize that transparency is a valued, company-wide policy. Also, by keeping work transparent throughout the company, employees can see the full scope of the project they’re contributing to, creating a sense of community among coworkers in spite of geographic distance.

Other ways to reinforce transparency include creating an iterative and open company guide so everyone can operate under the same guidelines and training for managers on how to be transparent during review cycles or major internal initiatives. Companies looking to move to a remote set up can take any approach to creating transparency they see fit, as long as they give it due consideration they’ll find success in remote work and ensure employees don’t feel excluded on the job.

The future is out of the office

Remote work is no longer the future of work – it’s the future of living. As employees continue to better optimize their lives around more than a commute, they’ll begin taking their talent to the companies best supporting their new priorities. Moving to all-remote, or even hybrid remote, may seem like a radical step for some organizations, but the benefits on both business and personnel levels make the transition worthwhile. To retain employees and find new talent companies need to embrace the possibilities of the future or risk falling behind on traditions of the past.

Darren Murph is head of remote at GitLab.

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