Do Your Employees WFH?

By Maria Forbes
November 11, 2020

Work From Home studies have revealed some important considerations that business leaders should take into account when planning for strategic growth. In the remote work setting, performance is not the only item on the checklist of new strategies. Hiring, development, and retention is a whole new series of processes for leaders of large and small businesses.
A new environment, new performance strategies, new ways to engage and maximize contributions remotely, are under the microscope as we forge ahead to a New Year.  Performance management strategies have been the agenda of 2020, and projections of the new normal have not fully unfolded.
The mindset shift from employing and managing job holders to hiring and developing individual contributors has become even more relevant to overall company growth. For many years we have trained our clients to thinking differently. We mentor our leaders to view their workforce as contributors, primarily to flatten the growth hierarchy and allow employees across the entire company to make targeted contributions to growth throughout all the business life cycles. Today the contributor model is even more critical to growth and succession planning; it becomes a necessary strategic initiative for hiring & selection, development, and retention. While leaders have had to manage a massive company transition to remote work in 2020, you now have to consider three more aspects of the employee relationship. The right mix of remote work and office time, methods for maintaining longer term productivity, and the best methods for developing individual contributors, must all be defined and implemented to protect and increase business value.
A study by Stanford Business Graduate School professor Nicholas A Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts, and Zhichun Jenny Ying; Does Working From Home Work? was recently revisited. Although the paper was written in March of 2013, which would seem irrelevant to current conditions, it was quite the opposite. The data, a work from home experiment, proves timeless human performance factors and reveals the importance of an agile employment model.
Bloom’s team stated that in 2013 about 10% of U.S. employees regularly work from home (WFH), today that number is approximately 42% of the U.S. workforce. Both scenarios are relevant and Bloom’s findings are helpful to every size business. Bloom’s study was based on a 16,000-employee call center for a global travel company. But the data on human performance is relevant to business teams of all sizes and to our current environment. It’s worth a brief exploration.
The Bloom team states; employees who volunteered were randomly assigned to work from home or in the office for nine months. Those working from home led to a 13% performance increase. Since this is a call center, about 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment). Think about your own employees; what is the right WFH environment? Are there team members that have been more successful WFH contributors than others? What can you identify as key factors in the settings of successful WFH employees? How can you encourage, support, and communicate a remote employee structure?

The Bloom study was taken seriously by the travel company and their leadership launched a WFH option for the entire workforce. The employee WFH volunteers were allowed to revise their schedules to work from home or the office. Although this study was conducted in a non-crisis environment, the findings help us to understand human productivity and to formulate longer term structures, beyond COVID-19.
Bloom’s team determined that over half of the employees changed their schedules when given the option. Home workers reported improved work satisfaction and the company experienced less turnover. The shift from full time office to a hybrid option generated significant improvements in productivity; Bloom states doubled gains.
This is good, but we are now hearing from employees about another aspect of WFH; promotion lags. The remote or WFH model that was forced upon us early this year was productivity driven. Now leaders face the challenge of how to retain their contributors.
Companies large and small must consider how to structure promotions. Employee development is certainly under examination. Previous onsite trainings have changed to online trainings. Since promotions are performance-based the lack of employee presence is creating gaps in assessing balanced and observable feedback, training, and cultural advancements. The transition from traditional office spaces to interactive and creative workspaces was already in place before COVID-19, to support employees working onsite. Today we have moved beyond interactive work spaces to a hybrid work environment where there are fewer employees onsite and many working remotely. This opposite end of the workspace spectrum has been telling us another story. Additional data from 2020 will help us to determine best practices for elevating employees, retaining their interest and motivation, and continued professional growth. As we get closer to a New Year however, the horizon is still blurry. We don’t envision plans for reversal of the remote workforce back to full time onsite, rather a quest for the right human capital architecture. The new frameworks will enable ongoing optimization of employee performance that is based on creative and flexible contributor roles. Working together, we can achieve success in a new normal.

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