Working From Home: A Lesson We Can't Unlearn

There are some pandemic behaviors we cannot unlearn. From a professional perspective, working from home tops the list.

Whether you love working from home or you hate it, it is now a thing. To be fair, we all know that working from home existed before the pandemic, but not widely in the nonprofit world.

Now, everywhere I turn nonprofits are debating whether to continue working from home. In many cases, the question is Should we allow working from home?, insinuating that leaders prefer a return to the office while subordinates prefer working from home. Reality is not that simple. 

I hear from leaders who truly favor WFH and subordinates who want to be in the office. Opinions are not clearly divided among age groups, gender, or ethnicities. It is a mixed bag, which is why the topic is so challenging.

What I am hearing consistently is that employees at every level want flexibility. The flexibility to take a loved one to the doctor during the workday; the flexibility to truly take a mental health day when life is overwhelming; the flexibility to carve out time to think strategically about an organizational issue or to write a white paper or a policy. The flexibility to work from home on Thursdays because a spouse is out of town every Thursday and juggling the kids alone is a challenge even without the commute to the office. 

The theme is absolutely flexibility. So, how can organizations respond? 

I am not an HR expert, but my advice is to start by surveying your team – confidentially. Give them a chance to say (and you a chance to understand) what is most important to them—don’t just assume. 

Retaining and recruiting high-quality professionals is key for every organization and, frankly, it is challenging in this environment. As many of us have re-evaluated our priorities during the pandemic, more and more people have decided life is too short to compromise. If you cannot meet a great employee where they are, you risk losing them.

If flexibility is at the heart of it, consider how you can be flexible in a variety of ways—not just with working from home – such as:

1. Combining vacation, sick time, and mental health into one pot of PTO to give employees the flexibility to use the time as they wish with no questions asked. Be generous here. It is a benefit that means a lot to your team.

2. Creating meeting free blocks every Tuesday from 1-5 p.m. and allowing team members to use that flexible time in ways that will be most productive for them even if it means taking a walk or running an errand.

3. Allowing flexible start and end times to the workday and honoring them whether the team member is working in the office or from home.

4. Offering a mix of in-person and video meetings whether it is daily, weekly, or monthly. Video meetings are still an option even if everyone is in the office…and we know they tend to be more efficient.

5. Considering a set number of hours per week, not a prescribed timeframe to complete those hours.

Once you have gathered input from your team and considered ways to provide what they want the most, present it to them in draft form. Get their feedback on the plan before calling it final. Work together to create ways to make the framework as appealing as possible for your team. In the end, we all know that employees who feel valued are the most productive. In our world today many team members equate value with flexibility. Find ways to make your team feel valued and those who are impacted by your work will be the ultimate beneficiaries.

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