With Australia recently reaching 80 percent vaccination targets, employers and their employees are once again having to shift established working models. This time, it’s heading back into offices across the country.
But returning to the office arrangement we saw pre-pandemic may not be quite so easy.
More people have had time to consider what’s really important to them. And striking an ideal work/life balance is right there at the top of many people’s lists.
As an employer, what strategies to improve work/life balance can you consider as we edge towards 2022?
The 2021 round of lockdowns were different
During the first round of lockdowns in 2020, everyone was a bit shell shocked. We all just did the best we could. Nobody really knew what was going to happen and mass stand downs and redundancies made those with jobs grateful to still have an income.
Fast-forward to the 2021 lockdowns and things were very different.
By now, everyone was used to Zoom meetings that included kids wanting to say hello, cats plonking down on desks and dressing-gown clad office managers informing everyone Casual Friday was now (super) Casual Every Day.
For some, productivity went through the roof because they didn’t arrive at work cranky after dealing with the early morning commute. Others struggled with bored school aged kids and remote learning alongside their full time job and life. Many fell somewhere in the middle.
But the one thing most people agree on is that working will never be the same. And it’ll be up to employers to listen to what their teams want and need, and lead the way into this brave new world.
Working from home
‘The COVID-19 pandemic forced many workers and firms — up to 40% of workers — to experiment with working from home. While the stay-at-home orders that forced this experiment are gradually easing across the developed world, the level of working from home is likely to remain much higher than it was before the pandemic.
This forced experiment showed that many people could do their jobs at home just as well as in the office. Workers really valued the time and money saved through not commuting, as well as the extra flexibility in their lives. And some firms can see potential productivity improvements and/or cost savings in a world of more work from home.’
The report addressed ‘what do workers want?’ by noting:
‘Most workers want to work from home, at least some of the time. About three-quarters of workers surveyed considered that they were at least as productive working from home as from the office….many employees highly value the ability to work from home, and are willing to change jobs or accept lower wages in order to continue working from home.’
And what about employer views?
‘Evidence is mixed on how working from home affects productivity for individuals in practice. But, over time, as firms and workers negotiate outcomes, learn and adapt, and become more effective at working from home, there are grounds for optimism at the economy-wide level. In all likelihood, productivity will remain the same or improve under more widespread working from home.’
While working from home has become a big player in the work/life balance scenario, it’s not the only thing that matters.
Shift the focus from hours worked to productivity
Some companies are already implementing four day work weeks, with trials in Iceland being hailed as an ‘overwhelming success’. Even if you’re unable to offer four day work weeks, you can shift the focus away from hours worked to productivity.
Encourage employees to focus on completing tasks and reward them for doing so.
Get the XYZ job done and you’re free to take the afternoon off to watch your kid get an award/get your hair done/read a book in the sunshine.
As Arianna Huffington said in her now famous INBOUND 2013 leadership speech, ‘People want time more than they do money.’
Who wants to work eighteen hour days, six days a week only to have a heart attack in their mid-50’s? No fancy corner office is worth your health. Mental or physical.
Support the parents
Many businesses are still losing so much great talent when women leave their job to raise children. While that slowly changes as affordable child care and more flexible working arrangements become available, men and non-primary carers also want to spend more time with their young families.
Employers can put in place many different strategies catering to all the parents who work for them. Some of these strategies include job sharing arrangements, work that can be performed during school hours, job sharing arrangements and paid parental leave.
Take a look at your 'perks'
Are office games and competitions really a perk? Did anyone actually eat the ‘thank you’ do-it-yourself- pizza kit you mailed out to your employees? And what about Friday afternoon drinks?
Survey your employees and ask them what they think are the perks of working for you.
You might be surprised!
Everyone is different
Any good employer looking at strategies to improve work/life balance will understand every employee is different.
Being able to start at 10.30am rather than 9am may give the parents working for you much needed breathing space. They can get kids to childcare or school, and be at their desk without having the usual morning meltdowns (them or the kids).
What about nine day fortnights? Job sharing? Flexible work from home/office days?
Office meetings at a local café (supporting a small local business). Gym memberships. Massages. Volunteering at a local charity. Match employee donations to a charity of their choice. Philanthropy is good for the soul (and tax deductible).
You can see productivity soaring already, right?