How Companies Can Support Work-From-Home Best Practices in the Long Term

Editor's note: This post is part of our ongoing exploration of how design is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most organizations have adopted work-from-home practices in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as Gensler and others eye a strategic and safe return to the office, many are now considering integrating modified schedules and partial remote working to accommodate physical distancing and other health and wellness practices.

While much of the workforce is now in a work-from-home groove, Gensler’s recent U.S. Work From Home Survey found that the vast majority of people want to return to the office, albeit with critical changes. Many also want to continue to work from home at least some of the time.

The movement to a more permanent work-from-home reality has raised the possibility that residential design will need to offer new solutions. At the very least, multi-family buildings may need to rethink amenities to better suit the at-home worker. The need for flexibility in residential units could also boil to the surface. Future designs could allow people to add office space or master bedrooms (in case college-age children need to return home for remote learning during another health crisis).

In the meantime, with planning underway for new long-term real estate strategies, following are factors that companies should consider as they plan for the operational mechanisms necessary to permanently support new workstyle habits, which requires multi-disciplinary support from HR, IT, FM, real estate and business leaders.

Support workers’ wellness at home

As working from home continues to become accepted as a new norm, organizations will want to encourage staff to stay healthy, which ultimately drives more self-satisfaction and greater productivity. Employers can provide cheat sheets to offer guidance on setting up a healthy, ergonomic work environment at home, or even provide one-on-one evaluations of home workspaces to evaluate ergonomics or health and safety risks. It’s also important to review and comply with insurance policies for out-of-office working.

Recent research has shown that staff under lockdown conditions are working longer than standard hours — this accelerates concerns about burnout as well as the ill effects of sitting too long at home. To prioritize wellness and encourage healthy habits, organizations can consider establishing protocols on “shutting down” at certain times or implementing apps that remind staff to take a break.

Invest in creating optimal work-from-home set-ups for staff

There are costs associated with working from home including stable broadband access, proper ergonomic furniture, monitors, electricity (for power, heating/cooling), cell phone usage, etc. Companies might return some real estate savings to staff by offering home office set-up reimbursements and/or monthly stipends. They can also consider negotiating discount arrangements with retailers to allow staff to personalize their home offices to optimize individual productivity. Some might even consider sponsoring or subsidizing co-working memberships to enable staff to work closer to home and save on commuting time.

Plan for technology support for hybrid working needs

Over 40% of workers reported access to technology and the ability to focus as key reasons to come into the office, according to Gensler’s Work From Home Survey. Beyond supplying staff laptops or VPN connections, there are other technology support systems to implement to make home office settings more effective and secure. Our current experience working from home has led the workforce to experiment with new tools and virtual collaboration platforms that can enhance productivity. When we return to the office, employers can implement these new digital workflows in both hybrid workplaces and home working settings. It’s also critical to protect and secure data inside and outside the office, so employers should refine and communicate processes to regularly encourage saving to centralized files on servers or the cloud to avoid staff saving on their local computers.

Reinforce organizational culture and the importance of gathering

Surveyed workers also reported that collaborating and staying informed on team members’ activities is more challenging to do while working outside of the office. The current pandemic has reinforced the importance of organizational culture and values in helping staff be productive and find purpose in their work. It is therefore especially important for workers with flexible schedules and those working from home to stay connected to each other and to the values of the organization. Leverage virtual collaboration tools and trackers, such as IMs, MS Teams, Miro, Nueva Span, and Salesforce, to keep distributed teams constantly in touch.

Employers should also establish clear protocols for communicating flexible working schedules, including guidance on the best channels to use to notify a point person and policies about when this needs to be communicated.

Our Work From Home Survey found 75% of respondents miss working from the office mostly because of “the people,” including the daily interactions, collaborations, spontaneous gatherings, and face-to-face meetings which are harder to replicate while working from home. Virtual team meetings or town halls can be used to regularly gather all staff as a larger, connected group. Setting core business hours when all team members need to be contactable can help with scheduling both virtual and in-person meetings, and designating days when all individuals should plan to be in the office can also keep the team connected.

Engage, train, and build trust among staff and managers

Many large companies have a flexible-working policy, however the length of time and particular days of the week that an individual can work outside of the office is often left to the discretion of the team manager. In reality (pre-COVID-19, at least), this often resulted in various teams having different degrees of flexible working depending on the team leader’s personal comfort with managing a distributed workforce, and not on the individual’s ability or commitment to work from home.

It’s key to build confidence and trust among management and staff by providing inductions, training, and regular refreshers on how to most effectively work remotely, as well as how to best manage a mobile workforce.

Organizations must customize the right approach for their workplace needs and culture

The right balance of flexible/home working and best support tools and resources will differ for every organization and even vary between departments, based on workstyles, business processes, available technology, organizational culture, and corporate finances. Steps to determine and deliver the appropriate customized approach to support working from home in the long term include:

  1. Research and engage: Use data-driven evidence on workstyles and work processes to help determine and communicate the ability for teams and individuals to work from home or flexibly.
  2. Define: Identify the home working policy and operational supports needed based on data collected.
  3. Roadmap and align delivery partners: Flexible working support mechanisms require involvement from HR, IT, CRE, FM, and management personnel. An interdisciplinary roadmap can help map out input across these departments to inform and communicate initiatives, delivery timelines, post-implementation activities, and overcome organizational silos.
  4. Implement and review: Roll-out the policy and identified support mechanisms, regularly reviewing the effectiveness and satisfaction of staff.

Please contact us to learn how Gensler can help you determine the right flexible/home working strategy and support mechanisms and plan the implications for your real estate strategy.

For any media inquiries, please contact Kimberly Beals at .

Dieter Kursietis
Dieter is a consulting director who focuses on the firm’s Consulting + Real Estate Services as well as its Education and Workplace practices. Dieter brings consulting expertise in design strategy, change management, operational planning, master planning, and urban design to global projects across a range of scales from workplaces and labs, to campuses and urban quarters. He is based in Hong Kong. Contact him at .
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