From overwhelming loss and economic instability to negative mental health impacts, the past year has been difficult for so many. As we all have tried to muddle through and process the pandemic and its toll, we learned valuable insights about what really matters and potentially changed a few institutions for the better.
One of those institutions would be physical office spaces and the accompanying lifestyle – lengthy and crowded commutes, distracting environments, competing schedules. Remote work was a growing trend pre-pandemic for all of those reasons, and the past 12 months have been a crash course on what works and what doesn’t about the practice.
Working from home is here to stay – and here are a few positive reasons why.
Simply, more time. Without a commute, you have more time in your day to focus on hobbies, decompress or spend time with loved ones. While many are still navigating tricky boundaries between home life and work life, and if we have been quarantining with roommates or kids, we might need a break from “loved ones,” but overall, work from home offers more personal time back in your day.
More control over your day and lifestyle. This is definitely an extension of having more time in your day to do what you actually want or need to, when you want or need to do it. No more packing up every little thing you’d need in a bag and lugging it in your car or on public transportation. You might have more flexibility with your working hours to better accommodate caregiving or schooling, or it might be as simple as stepping into the kitchen for an afternoon coffee break. Plus, some professionals are taking advantage of increased work from home practices to move closer to family, to cheaper cities or to try a new place. These two points might feel harder to achieve as some workers juggle caregiving and professional life, but as schools reopen and flexibility in work hours remains, the benefits should become more obvious.
Increased accessibility and support. Whether it’s the trend of folks working from bed (and enthusiastic support and insight from disability advocates), or simply being able to wear comfier clothes and feel more relaxed during the day, your physical space likely improved by being at home. Maybe you decorated a dedicated corner of a room, invested in a nice office chair or bought a Peloton to bike between meetings. Maybe working from home allowed more flexibility with doctor’s appointments and dietary needs, or has allowed you to take more mental health breaks and walks around the block. One of the best things about a work from home setup is the personalization. Office environments are notorious for not being able to meet everyone’s unique needs, but at home, you can have it as loud or as quiet as you need, as mobile or stationary as you want, with all of your favorite snacks (and maybe pets) within reach.
The ways people have come together. Whether it was supporting clients, building COVID-19 resources for job seekers or simply holding space for coworkers to vent via Slack, it became clear we all need connection and support. Teams came together to ensure colleagues could not only do their jobs, but to extend empathy, patience and flexibility for one another. The veneer of “professionalism” quickly gave way to understanding that a toddler might come screaming in during a presentation or you need a break from having your camera on during endless meetings. Industries shifted to virtual-first, as well as reimagining everything from hiring practices to services offered. Employers proved there is great capacity for innovation and change, and that infusing more humanity into our work lives has shown to be an improvement.
The one major takeaway from 2020
Accept feedback from employees and adapt to trends before you’re forced to and lose great talent along the way. The pandemic forced a growing trend into "the new normal” overnight (for the workers who had the option). Focusing on retention is a good way to future-proof your team – what do your current employees need to feel satisfied and secure on the job? Keep focusing on skills-based hiring, investing in diversity and inclusion initiatives, and ensuring your talent acquisition process is simple and streamlined.