Flexible Work Arrangements & Remote Work

December 4, 2023
Flexible Work Arrangements & Remote Work

Maybe your employees have returned to work post-COVID but continue to voice their desire for remote opportunities- we understand that there are many questions that come up when discussing flexible work arrangements. If you find yourself trying to find an answer to the work-from-home question, we’ve compiled a few different options to help. The main theme- finding an arrangement that works for both employee and employer.

My employees have asked to work from home but we want them in the office

The office looks a lot different than it did back at the start of 2020, mostly related to remote work. Many executives are looking to reduce office space by as much as 30%, and 85% of managers say remote workers will become the “new normal” for many teams. And while many people feel more productive working from home, some reports find that people are less connected, and there are more silos within companies due to this widespread work-from-home shift.

The height of the pandemic anxiety is behind us (for the most part). As a manager, you might be tempted to ask your people to come back into the office. But what if your company asks people to return to the office, and you face pushback from employees? This is a very likely scenario because most people want the option to work remotely: 54% of workers want to keep working from home.

So what can you do in this case, when there’s a clash between what management wants compared to the employees? Below we explore what a compromise might look like, and important considerations for managers.

What happens when employees say no?

According to employment lawyers, it’s an employer’s right to have the employee attend the workplace, especially if that is how they previously were employed. An employee who refuses to attend can be terminated, according to experts. So long as the workplace complies with all health and safety regulations, simply feeling unsafe isn’t enough justification not to return.

However, the post-pandemic working environment has shifted towards democratization. After 2 years of having more autonomy over their working lives, many employees are hesitant to give it back. According to EY, over half of workers (54%) say that whether they can work flexibly will impact their decision to stay at their current organization.

The same study indicates that 75% of these workers are satisfied with their jobs. This suggests that, for many, being forced to work from the office really is a reason to quit. Legally, employers have the right to force an employee back to the office. However, doing so poses risks to employee retention — and office morale. Additionally, there are some legal rights that employees have which also need to be considered.

Do you actually need people in a physical office?

Before asking your workforce to come back into the office, it’s worth considering if it’s really necessary. The answer might be yes! That being said, as a manager at a small company, be prepared to present a persuasive case for it. Many banks and law firms have started calling people back into the office, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are needed there in person, full time. And there has been massive pushback from these workers.

A McKinsey report found that “20 to 25 percent of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week.” That aside, the same report found that just because a job can be done remotely, it doesn’t mean that it should: “Negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback, and onboarding new employees are examples of activities that may lose some effectiveness when done remotely.”

You might lose valued employees if you dictate they return to the office

As a manager, you might be more comfortable with having your people in the office, working physically together. After all, this was how we operated before the pandemic. But a lot has changed in the last 2 years, including people’s attitudes towards work, and how their jobs fit into their lives.

According to LinkedIn, people are willing to sacrifice pay for a better work-life balance, and a Wall Street Journal report found that 78% of workers want location flexibility. Remote work provides the flexibility people are looking for; many have no intention of giving that up any time soon. Overall, 39% of workers would consider changing jobs if their employer wasn’t flexible around remote work. This number increases to 49% (almost half!) when looking at millennial and Gen Z workers. Put simply, if you dictate that people return to the office, you’ll risk losing them altogether.

Finding a compromise to appease both your workers and your desire for some in-person time

Let’s say you’ve established that you’ll need your workforce to come in at least a few days a week. How can you manage this disconnect? You’ll need to find a compromise.

While reports say that collaboration has taken a hit because of remote work, it is possible to keep collaboration alive without your people being in the office full time. Harvard Business Review also cites research that found “close collaboration across distance actually strengthened relationships and engagement among colleagues because it required them to improve their communication and mutual support.” They find the best strategy is to let people work remotely for the parts of a project that are best done independently (like drafting outlines), and then come together when it will best serve a specific task or project.

Don’t waste people’s time asking them to commute to the office until the independent work has been completed.

So a compromise might look like staying away from mandates that dictate coming into the office X days a week. The days should instead be thoughtful for the task at hand. It isn’t about the frequency, but rather having people come in when it’s most useful and impactful to be together.

Other considerations

If your workforce doesn’t actually need to be in the office, consider why management is asking for in-person time. Since 41% of workers actually feel more productive working from home, it’s in your best interest to be mindful about asking about and planning in-person working sessions. This is especially true if performance and productivity have remained steady. You’ll simply breed resentment by forcing adults to follow a new work-from-office policy without providing an explanation.

If you find that your employees are not as productive, collaborative, or performing as pre-pandemic, forcing people back into the office may not solve these issues. There could be larger issues at play that are worth exploring as a first step.

Perhaps you’re implementing a return-to-work mandate or allowing people to work remotely permanently. Either way, be thoughtful with your approach and clear about why. If you believe some job functions or meetings are best done in person, ensure your reasoning is clear. Also, be considerate of your employees’ time.

While it’s true that some businesses function better having their workforce show up in person, maintaining and attracting good talent in the post-pandemic workforce means allowing for some give and take. What works for one company might not work for another. However, in the end, a good decision is one made with empathy, understanding, and clear communication. After all, according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, “the future of work is flexibility.”

Read on for several different types of work arrangements that might help your organization bridge the gap between employer wants and employee needs.

7 Flexible Work Arrangements for a Happier, More Productive Workplace

Flexible work arrangements make a big difference in the personal and professional lives of employees. Here’s how to choose what’s right for your company.

In a recent survey, respondents ranked work-life balance and flexibility as their #2 and #3 priorities (respectively) of what they want out of work.¹ This data signals the high demand for flexible work arrangements.

There are many types of flexible work arrangements. Choosing the right ones can make a big difference in your workplace. Whether you’re a manager, employee, or jobseeker, it’s important to know the differences between the various types of flex arrangements.

Every working arrangement won’t necessarily fit every role. Some might attract different employees or apply better to different job descriptions. Regardless of which ones you implement, each policy can help create an idea of what behavior is expected and encouraged.

How important are flexible work arrangements?

Very. A flexible work arrangement may be one of an employee’s favorite job benefits. It also helps forge a company culture built on trust and respect.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of flexible work is the understanding behind it. Flexible schedules leave room for life to happen. Need to take 2 days off for a minor medical procedure? Let your bosses know, and do it! Employees who don’t have to fear for their jobs over 1 or 2 sick days are likely to be more satisfied, productive, and efficient.

Flexible work arrangements to try in your office

Implementing flexible work options will be valuable for creating a positive work environment, reducing company turnover, and increasing job satisfaction. Let’s look at 7 such arrangements.

1. Telecommuting

Telecommuting refers to a job that’s performed remotely only part of the time. It can be a full-time position. And since telecommuting usually means employees come into the physical workplace consistently, staff in these roles usually live locally.

According to Gallup, the telecommuting schedule that offers the most productivity is that by which an employee comes into the office 2-3 days per 5-day work week. Telecommuting can be implemented with nearly any position that doesn’t require the worker to be in-office all the time. But managers still prefer a person who lives locally and can quickly get to the office if necessary.

2. Remote working

Remote work is different from telecommuting. It’s entirely performed away from the office. And it can be on a temporary or permanent basis (such as with an employee traveling on business). Since remote workers don’t have to come into the office at all, they can live and work almost anywhere worldwide.

Remote work arrangements are a good option for businesses looking to broaden their applicant pool and for job descriptions that don’t require in-person work. Self-motivation, video conferencing and other technology, and consistent communication help team members successfully work remotely.

3. A compressed work week

As an employer, you may want to maintain a 40-hour work week. However, you can be flexible on where and when those hours are spent. A condensed work week may mean employees start earlier, stay later, and are then off for 3 days vs. 2.

For many employees, a flexible schedule is the ultimate perk. In addition, businesses can also lower overhead with a 3-day weekend. But it may be difficult to implement for an entire organization.

Testing this schedule with long-term, experienced employees before offering it may help determine if it’s the right choice.

4. Customized work schedule

Allowing workers to choose their own work hours (within reason) is a great perk and can cost an organization nothing. Individual circumstances may make early morning work more conducive for some employees, while others may prefer to work late. A tailored working arrangement affords employees greater work-life balance and fosters well-being. Letting workers choose their hours within an approved window (e.g., 6 a.m. – 8 p.m.) is a popular and relatively simple system.

5. Part-time arrangement

Not every position warrants full-time work. Offering part-time positions can help increase productivity.

Sometimes employers won’t offer part-time workers an employee benefits package. Offering part-time employee benefits like healthcare, retirement, and vacation days helps keep and attract the high-quality employees. Providing benefits for part-time workers can also keep a company competitive among employers, increase job satisfaction, and decrease costly employee turnover.

6. Job sharing

Job sharing is a flexible working arrangement similar to part-time work. The system consists of 2 or more part-time workers sharing the responsibilities of a full-time job.

A part-time job may appeal to the employees for various reasons. Ongoing personal family needs are common reasons for wanting reduced hours. The employer benefits from the equivalent of full-time work without offering costly benefits. However, managers must supervise more than 1 person for a single job. Implementation requires negotiation with each worker.

7. Flexible vacation time

More businesses than ever are chucking a set number of vacation days and offering unlimited paid time off. The company PTO policy can be inclusive of its vacation policy. Of course, any PTO policy comes with plenty of requirements. For example, there must be open communication about the time off, and peak workload hours or times of year may be off limits. Employers must be clear about their expectations, and employees need to know what they should be doing.

There are numerous considerations when implementing a flexible work schedule and working with remote employees. Typically, successfully implementing a flex time arrangement requires a performance-driven work culture. Furthermore, flexibility requires practice, patience, and a little trial and error.

Are Interns Right for Remote Work? Pros and Cons of Virtual Internships

Now that a global pandemic has changed how companies do business, it’s now more important than ever to consider whether remote internships make sense.

Does it make sense for interns to be remote, and will they get the full experience?

Here's what you need to know:

  • Virtual internships are now more common than ever, with 60% of employers planning to offer them in the coming year
  • Remote work isn’t for everyone, and some people simply do not thrive in digital environments

An internship is like a golden ticket for college students looking to gain real world experience in their chosen fields. Interns gain valuable skills, on-the-job training, college credit, competitive wages, and an exciting new title for their resumes. Moreover, many internships lead to full-time job offers after college. Employers also benefit from internship programs. Companies that take on interns (including remote interns) gain access to bright young professionals that are eager to work hard and impress for a reduced price tag.

Though internships are typically positive experiences for both students and businesses, the COVID pandemic has thrown a wrench in the process. With many small, medium, and large businesses allowing employees to continue to work from home, it only makes sense to allow interns to do the same. The only question is: is it a good idea? According to survey data, virtual internships are now more common than ever, with 60% of employers planning to offer them in the coming year. This article will discuss the feasibility of remote interns and the pros and cons of hiring interns to work at home.

What does a remote internship look like?

Remote internships are internships done entirely online, similar to other remote work. Interns use email, online chat, video chat, computer software, and phone calls to perform onboarding, training, internship tasks, and to speak to their managers. College students often find remote internships attractive because they offer flexibility and allow them to remain local.

Companies looking to hire remote interns must carefully construct an internship agreement that outlines the technology provided for remote work, the expectations as a remote worker, and the process for recording work hours, among other things.

Pros of remote internships

Internships, in general, are beneficial to companies — and making these roles remote offers even more advantages.

You can broaden your pool of applicants

There are many benefits to hiring interns remotely, but perhaps one of the most significant benefits is the ability to widen your talent pool in a tight labor market. Nearly half of American companies say they are short on skilled workers, and remote internships can help bridge that gap. Without geographical restrictions, companies can recruit top college students from anywhere in the country. Additionally, more students are likely to apply for an internship if they know they will not have to relocate, spend money on moving, leave family obligations, and uproot their lives.

Allowing remote work can widen your pool of intern candidates to people anywhere in the country.

It is a great way to build your future workforce

Another key benefit of hiring remote interns is that businesses have the opportunity to build their future workforce. Remote work, in general, requires an understanding of digital communication and technology, discipline, focus, and a proactive mindset. By hiring remote interns, you will be able to shape and mold them into the type of employees you would like to hire full time after they finish their studies.

Proven Increase in productivity

Companies offering remote internships may also enjoy increased productivity compared to traditional in-person internships. Remote work is well-suited for project-based assignments that are easily trackable with project management software. Interns can complete project-based assignments remotely, and company leaders can provide instructions, due dates, resources, review and provide feedback on them quickly. This project-based model allows businesses to have peace of mind knowing that their remote interns are staying busy. Moreover, remote internships reduce disruptions and distractions that are often found in the office. All of these factors do wonders to drive up productivity.

Cost efficiency

Lastly, remote internships are more cost-effective. Since remote interns don’t work in the office, businesses don’t have to allocate additional workspace or spend money on workplace supplies like computer chairs, printer ink, paper, pens, and more. Remote interns are usually responsible for their laptops, internet connections, and printing products, though many firms offer compensation for these items.

Cons of remote internships

As with most things, remote internships do have their downsides, but there are ways to get around them.

Lack of in-person experience

One of the most obvious downsides of hiring a remote intern is that they simply don’t get the full company experience. Remote interns cannot experience what it is like to work with other people in the office. They may miss out on learning from other interns and colleagues or won’t be able to get their questions answered in real time. Beyond the workplace, remote interns are also excluded from company social events, making them feel isolated. Having a personal connection with coworkers is crucial to engagement and understanding company culture.

Miscommunication

Another potential con of remote internships is the high potential for miscommunication. With remote internships, everything is dependent on clear communication through emails, online chats, or video calls. Therefore, miscommunication can occur easily, leading to decreased productivity or frustration on the part of the worker and their manager.

Remote work isn’t for everyone

Lastly, not all remote interns will work out. Remote work isn’t for everyone, and some people simply do not thrive in digital environments. A remote internship requires high levels of self-motivation and time management to be successful. These things can take time to master; however, many interns need an in-person experience to thrive. Hiring a new intern could potentially cause a company significant time and money, which is a hard pill to swallow.

Are remote internships the future?

While internships offer many benefits to college students and employers, the shift to online work due to COVID has made virtual internships a rising trend — a trend with both pros and cons that must be considered. Remote internships:

  • Widen the talent pool for companies
  • Allow them to build their future workforce
  • Increase intern productivity
  • Reduce costs

Conversely, remote internships can minimize exposure to colleagues and company culture, increase miscommunication, and lead to potential turnover. Even with these potential negatives, remote internships will continue to rise in popularity.

While it can be a challenge to have interns who are not working in the office, mingling with coworkers, and attending in-person meetings, the experience can be easily replicated with the right technology. Many businesses have discovered effective ways to keep operations and company culture revved up with technology like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Trello, and more tools that most young students are already familiar with.

As the workforce continues moving to a digital model, companies that hire remote interns are gearing up for the future, one Zoom call at a time.

Communicating with remote workers and staff with flexible arrangements comes with its own challenges, and having realistic expectations on communication turnaround time can help set healthy boundaries from the get-go.

What Is a Reasonable Time to Wait for a Remote Employee to Respond to an Email?

Have you been waiting on an email response from one of your work-from-home staff members and are wondering how long is too long to wait? Find out here.

Here's what you need to know:

  • When it comes to receiving email responses from remote workers, 1 employee might always get responses out within minutes, while others could take hours
  • If a follow-up email needs to be sent out, wait at least 24 hours after the initial email was sent
  • If there is a date-specific or deadline-driven need for input, make sure that is noted in the email
  • For situations where 24 hours might be too long for a response, consider using another means of communication, like the phone

With the advent of email, the business world has come together more than ever. For example, someone in Australia can send an email to someone in Europe, and the message will arrive almost instantaneously.

A few decades ago, this would have been impossible. The message first would need to be written or typed, placed into a mailbox, properly stamped and sorted, sent through various locations, shipped across the sea, and then might arrive weeks after it was first sent.

In that way, email has made the exchange of information much simpler for businesses and people alike. However, it has also created some difficulties in communication. People get tons of emails every day, from promotional emails to spam emails, work emails, and personal emails.

It takes time to go through all of those emails and respond to the important ones. For a company that has remote workers, this can also create some issues. If someone is working with a remote team, it’s important to be mindful that response times on emails will likely vary.

How long should email response time be when someone works remotely?

Since email responses might take longer, some business owners are reluctant to bring on remote teams. They aren’t sure what expectations to have about email communication times.

In some cases, an owner with remote workers could see a delay of a few minutes as a major cause for concern or an issue for the future. Some will even believe that it is a serious emergency.

One thing to keep in mind is that remote workers are just the same as the people who are inside the office. Those workers might be collaborating with other team members, chatting with a client on the phone, or focusing on important projects.

Considering all of those factors, remote team members often will not be able to respond to emails any faster than the people who are in the office. It could take seconds, minutes, hours, or even days. It all depends on priorities and workloads.

When should a business owner worry about response times?

When should a business owner worry about remote worker response times? Usually, it’s not a huge concern unless the person has missed critical emails or cannot be reached through other forms of communication.

Try to step back and give the other person some time. Most of the time, a few minutes (or even hours) won’t make a huge difference for the manager or the company as a whole. Give people a chance to respond before getting worried that this isn’t going to happen.

Results from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering study

A study done by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering looked at email responses to get a better idea of typical email behavior. The study encompassed studying over 2 million users who exchanged more than 16 billion emails over a few months. There were several interesting patterns to be aware of.

  • Typical response time is under an hour: With most people using smartphones and tablets on the go, it’s easier than ever to respond to emails. The study shows that around 50% of replies are sent in under an hour.
  • When responses are unlikely: If it’s been more than 48 hours, the likelihood of getting a response to an email drops dramatically. If the person who was sent an email doesn’t reply within 2 days, they likely won’t do so later.
  • Teens respond the most quickly: It might not be surprising to learn that teenagers are often the quickest to respond to emails. In fact, younger individuals often reply in 13 minutes or less.
  • Young adults also have good response times: For people between 20 and 35, the response time goes up a bit to 16 minutes. Looking at people ages 35 to 50, the response time averages about 24 minutes.
  • Older people take the longest to respond: People who are over 50 tend to take 47 minutes to reply to emails. On the other hand, they often respond with longer messages than those who are younger.
  • Gender has a small effect: Women often take about 4 minutes longer to respond to emails than men do.
  • Platform differences: Mobile phone users tend to respond to emails in half the time as those who are using a laptop.

Additional factors to keep in mind

There are other things to keep in mind, too. If 2 people have been emailing back and forth for quite a long time, there are often signs that the conversation is about to end.

At the start, users mimic each other in terms of how long the email will be. Someone who sends 3 paragraphs will often expect to get a similar amount back.

This synchronicity usually breaks down toward the middle of a conversation. If the other user’s emails change, this may mean they are not as interested in continuing to chat. A longer-than-usual delay usually signals the conversation is over.

How long should someone wait to respond to business emails?

To put it in the simplest terms, it’s best to respond as quickly as possible. However, if at all possible, workers should respond within 24 hours. Even in a situation where a long response can’t be sent, a note can be to let the person know a response is coming when the time is available for one.

People who manage remote workers have expectations about response time with email. It’s impossible to send out an instant email every time one comes in.

However, sending it out as quickly as possible is recommended. If it takes hours or days, it seems as if the person responding doesn’t consider the email important.

A quick response gives insight into how someone will communicate and work as an employee in the future. Everyone prefers to work with people who are thoughtful and respond to messages as quickly as they can. The quicker the response made, the better the impression on the initial sender.

Thoughts for senders of emails

It can be difficult to let go of the assumption that an instant response will be provided. However, that kind of goal is only going to stress the person sending the initial email.

If a response isn’t sent back immediately, avoid being the person who sends out a reminder email in 30 minutes. This can make a person appear to be someone who is overly demanding.

The same applies if someone is impatient and makes a phone call soon after sending an email. If the situation is critical enough to require that, making the phone call first is generally the better option.

When communicating with remote workers, there’s nothing wrong with having an expectation that emails will be answered as promptly as possible.

However, also be aware that people may be busy for all sorts of reasons. Other activities and responsibilities may require all of the person’s attention. The recipient might be out of the office, in a meeting, or trying to meet other commitments and deadlines.

If the email is urgent, note that in the message

When it comes to receiving email responses from remote workers, it can take some time. One employee might always get responses out within minutes, while others could take hours, depending on the situation. If a follow-up email needs to be sent out, wait at least 24 hours after the initial email was sent.

It’s important to be courteous to the people who are emailed and give them some time to respond. If there is a date-specific or deadline-driven need for input, make sure that is noted in the email. For situations where 24 hours might be too long for a response, consider using another means of communication, like the phone.

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