Millions of Americans began working from home when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2019 and 2021, the number of people working from home tripled from 5.7%, or about 9 million people, to nearly 18%, or 27.6 million people. While some organizations have mandated a return to the office, many others have adopted a hybrid or full-time work-from-home (WFH) model for the foreseeable future.
In the face of such a significant shift in workforce dynamics, companies must continually transition workers effectively into a long-term WFH situation. We’ll explore how employees and businesses can make this WFH transition seamless.
More companies are offering remote work options as a flexible benefit. According to McKinsey and Company, nearly 6 in 10 (58%) American workers surveyed say they can work from home at least once a week, while 35% can work from home five days a week.
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How to transition to long-term WFH
Employee desires are part of the reason for the WFH shift. According to a 2022 study by McKinsey, 87% of employees opt for flexible work arrangements when they’re offered. Working from home eliminates workers’ commutes. Additionally, working from home saves companies money on office space.
If your company has decided to make telework a long-term or permanent situation, here are six ways to smooth the transition.
1. Use the right tools to improve WFH communication.
Businesses must invest in the right communication tools to ensure remote employees stay connected, engaged and privy to insights into various projects in real time.
Work with your company to ensure you have collaboration tools and internal communication apps like Slack to enable distributed project management and freely flowing text and video communication.
Many businesses also use tools to track remote staff productivity and employee monitoring software to hold employees accountable for production and goals.
2. Only hold video meetings with a clear purpose.
One of the most common remote work complaints is video call fatigue – also referred to as “Zoom burnout.” To avoid this problem, work with the in-office team to limit video meetings. When video meetings are absolutely necessary, ensure they have a defined purpose, limited time frame and an agenda shared with everyone involved with the call.
WFH employees may not have a say in the structure and number of video meetings. However, they can work with management to streamline video meetings and set parameters.
According to Microsoft’s New Future of Work Report 2022, 47% of Americans prefer a hybrid work situation, 32% prefer full-time WFH and just 21% want to return to the office full time.
3. Have a dedicated WFH workspace.
Going from commuting to an office to walking a few steps from the bedroom to the kitchen can be a challenging transition. The best way for remote workers to trick their minds into thinking they’ve entered a workspace is to create a dedicated working environment.
You may not have an elaborate setup, but that’s OK. Even if your workspace consists of a computer monitor on your kitchen table or a desk in your bedroom corner, use that space only for work – and walk away from it when your work is done for the day.
4. Create boundaries between your work and personal life.
Another common complaint from remote employees is the difficulty of drawing boundaries between work and home life – after all, work is now home. Blurred lines between work and home can lead to employee burnout, so do your best to create firm working hours and stick to them.
Communicate your boundaries to family members and co-workers, and commit yourself to walking away from work when your day ends.
5. Overcommunicate with team members and managers.
When you’re used to communicating in person with team members, it can be challenging to translate that same communication level to a digital format.
You can lose significant nuance and nonverbal communication in virtual interactions, causing rifts due to wrong assumptions and misunderstandings. Commit to overcommunicating and making things as clear as possible. Instead of making assumptions, ask for clarification and restate your understanding of every decision and agreement.
The skills you need to succeed with remote work include time management, communication, collaboration, and enough tech know-how to manage your conferencing and communication systems.
6. Set a schedule for your remote workday.
Setting a schedule is a crucial remote work best practice. Remote work makes your day’s structure much more flexible, so a set schedule helps you stay on track.
Working from home can improve or lower productivity, depending on the remote worker’s time-management skills and the company’s support and oversight. To use your time wisely, take time to add meetings to your schedule and allocate specific time to various projects. Don’t forget to schedule breaks so you can stay fresh and motivated.
According to an NIH study, interruptions and schedule changes adversely affect WFH employees’ mental health and physical well-being.
Pros and cons of transitioning to long-term WFH
More and more companies are instituting permanent WFH or flexible work arrangements. HubSpot, Williams-Sonoma, Dell Technologies, Mayo Clinic and Stitch Fix were among the top companies offering remote jobs in 2022. Many more are sure to follow suit.
If you’re a business owner considering offering WFH arrangements or an employee considering remote work, carefully weigh the following pros and cons of working from home.
Pros of working from home
People who work from home may experience the following benefits:
- Working from home offers greater schedule flexibility. One of the biggest benefits of working from home is making your own schedule instead of adjusting to a preset office schedule. You can structure your day to accommodate your workload and meetings along with nonwork obligations like medical appointments and childcare.
- There’s no commute when you work from home. With the average American spending 239 hours and $8,466 commuting in 2022, according to List With Clever, it’s clear that losing the commute is a significant WFH benefit. Eliminating the commute can also decrease stress and save money on gas or public transportation.
- Working from home can increase productivity. Working from home increases productivity for many workers because of personalized schedules and fewer distractions. WFH employees can take breaks as needed, reducing stress and combating employee burnout.
- Working from home can boost employee retention. Working from home may boost employee retention. A Stanford WFH study found that although productivity was about the same for office and WFH employees, employees who worked from home had one-third lower quit rates and significantly improved job satisfaction, work-life balance and intention to stay with the company.
- Working from home means fewer workplace distractions. How often did you complain about the co-worker who was always on the phone or the manager who stopped by your desk every 10 minutes? Working from home means fewer such distractions, allowing you to focus on your work.
- Working from home can improve communication skills. Working from home means adapting to new communication channels and improving written, verbal and virtual communication skills. Additionally, remote workers must communicate meticulously across every medium to avoid misunderstandings.
With the best remote PC access software, WFH employees can collaborate with the IT team to solve tech issues remotely.
Cons of working from home
WFH benefits aren’t universal. Carefully weigh the following remote work downsides before transitioning to a WFH arrangement.
- Working from home can be isolating. One of the greatest drawbacks to being at home every day is feelings of isolation and loneliness. Many workers enjoy the social aspect of office work, making an abrupt transition to full-time independent work challenging. In particular, women who earn less than $100,000 a year are at the highest risk for depression when working from home, according to a University of Tokyo study.
- Working from home creates home office costs. When transitioning to a remote work situation, you’ll need to set up a workspace. Often, this means investing in a new desk and chair, faster internet, and computer equipment. Costs can add up, especially if the company isn’t paying for your setup.
- Working from home can mean too much work. While some remote workers experience improved work-life balance, others may find it challenging to draw a line between work and personal time. Some remote employees struggle to designate firm work hours and find themselves working all the time – or constantly thinking about work.
- Working from home can decrease productivity. While working from home might increase productivity for some workers, it could have the opposite effect on others. For example, working in your living room might tempt you to take frequent breaks, and having family members around can be distracting.
- Working from home can cause co-worker disconnect. When you’re used to seeing co-workers in the office daily and working together face to face, it can be difficult to transition to video calls and emails. It may take longer to get your questions answered, and some nuance may be lost in communication.
Take care and time with your WFH transition
Working from home brings many benefits to employees and companies, but transitioning to a long-term WFH situation shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. Employers must create a communication and support infrastructure that supports their WFH employees and sets them up for success. Workers must take time to organize their schedules and setups so that they improve their work-life balance, not damage it.
Remote work is here to stay. Be aware of its pitfalls and take steps to create a situation that enriches your life while keeping your career on track.
Jennifer Dublino contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.