Real Issues. Real Answers. The remote workforce

remote workforce real issues real answers
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Lumberyard employees working from home? As short as six months ago, that concept would have been absurd. But a lot has changed in six months. Some LBM dealers who may have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into this “new normal,” are now finding that remote workers can be happier and more productive. But what happens to the team environment when part of the team is home, and the rest are coming to work? That’s the gist of this month’s Real Issues survey.

Remote workforce Real Issue chart

What advice would you have for this dealer?

“COVID-19 has forced companies to let more employees work remotely and it’s proven to work, in spite of reservations to the contrary. With more states opening back up, and companies able to bring people back into the office, how do you handle the employee who says, ‘I like working from home and want to continue to do so.’ Do you let them, or do you require them to come back to work at the office? If you let them work remote, don’t you risk losing the ‘team environment’ that took so long to build up? I don’t want or need a bunch of ‘hired guns.’ I’d love to hear how others are handling this.”

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“I’d say work out a compromise. 1 or 2 days a week in the office or if it is a support role let them work at home.”

“Agreed, it has proven to work, but ‘onsite’ facilitates communication if you need an answer now, not a phone call or text message away.”

“We have had an opposite problem. We were not able to offer employees the option of working from home, but we had employees who asked for leaves of absence because of personal health issues or family needs. As the state started opening up, we had employees resenting the staff members who have chosen not to return to work.”

“We don’t have anyone working from home, so my answer could be irrelevant. I doubt I would allow someone to continue working from home because ‘they wanted to.’”

“For the company to be successful in future years we need the team to be onsite. I believe even though productivity and sales are currently strong, both will decrease after an extended period.”

“There’s no doubt that there are some advantages to working from home, i.e. remotely. That said, our realization is that most of our job descriptions—and thus expectations and goals—were aligned around working at the business location. Since we don’t think this situation will go away, our plan is to revisit it, and establish goals that likely result in a hybrid; meaning, people will be allowed to work remotely one to two days a week. That said, we will also explore and expect rotations where one group may come into the office Monday, Wednesday and Friday while the second group comes in Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This achieves the spacing objectives of COVID19 regulations and deep cleaning between shifts. Additionally, if we maintain the same people during same shifts, we believe that we can mitigate damage to the business in the event of an exposure. So, if there is a positive case, hopefully it can be contained and only one group would need to quarantine.”

“You indicated productivity was up. Why change that? Let them work remotely.”

“I found that most of our employees who worked from home actually missed the interaction with customers and co-workers and were anxious to get back into the office. Working from home today in our company is the exception to the rule.”

“Unless there is evidence of increased productivity and customer service, I would not allow it. In today’s employment environment, locations are running staffing extremely thin. It’s ‘all hands on deck’ for waiting on customers, and no position has just one set of responsibilities. It’s extremely difficult for someone working remotely to assist with customer service at the level dictated by the market today.”

“For us, when we get to that point, it will most likely be a mix of those returning to the offices and those that will continue to work from home. While the work from home concept was one used on a very limited basis in the past, we have proven that it can work from an IT, productivity and employee well-being standpoint. We have also enjoyed savings on things like office supplies, mileage paid to outside salespeople, etc. Not sure what our mix will be in the future, but I’m sure we’ll be more flexible about allowing work from home situations going forward. We are not concerned about the ‘team environment’ being lost with all the ways to keep in touch with others being available.”

“I think you could split the difference. Ultimately whatever makes the company better is best. So, if some are very productive working at home and want to continue, I say let them at least 75% of the time. Everyone has a different job to do, so don’t make one rule for all.”

“I would absolutely encourage allowing the employees who have maintained and/or increased their productivity to continue to work remote. With the many tools that we have available for face-to-face contact, meetings can easily continue to be held remotely. Perhaps you could have the associates attend quarterly meetings on site if their physical presence is necessary.”

“We required all employees to return to their regular locations. We saw a serious disconnect in our critical communication while the employees were off-site.”

“I agree with the importance of teamwork. You may have a superstar that can work remotely with great success; however, he can’t be a resource to the rest of the team while he’s out on his own. Likewise, he may not be developing personally without inputs and challenges witnessed in workplace.”

“We are asking everyone to return to work. Employees who have issues are handled on a case-by-case situation. Safety of the employee and others is the primary concern.”

“We hold our employees accountable based on results. If they are making their goals and are completing all their required work, we are okay with letting them work remotely. We utilize Microsoft Teams (software) to hold virtual face-to-face meetings.”

“We brought back our remote workers because while they thought they were doing a great job and saw no need to return, we realized it wasn’t working for us in the long-term. We were also noticing a growing resentment building between on-site and remote workers. On-site workers were being asked to pick up the tasks the remote workers were unable to do because they weren’t physically here. If possible, I would recommend bringing back remote workers.”

“Cannot speak to sales, but from the purchasing side with scheduled team meetings, we’re probably more connected on the business side than before. We have, however, lost most of the personal touch and I am very concerned about maintaining the team atmosphere. Our stay at home directive has been extended as the COVID situation is getting worse, not better.”

“Allow them to work from home, but at a reduced salary. Phone sales and telecommuting are fine, but the personal face-to-face interactions are what make a solid team and great customer service.”

“During the continued pandemic we have allowed a rotation among peers and co-workers. Making sure at least one was on site for customer service in a particular area. Having rotating days has seemed to work.”

“The expectation of working from home will be changed forever. Instead of asking for permission to work from home, employees will be expecting to work from home 1-2 days per week if necessary. The ‘team environment’ may be a challenge. It will be important to encourage team building activities through weekly/monthly meetings or strategy sessions. Managers may need to entice employees to feel compelled to return to work.”

“I feel as if the employees’ productivity is up, you continue to allow remote work from home for certain set days per week or month.”

“Have them back at the office and work on an overall plan if you are going to allow it. Once you have a plan in place and you have metrics to make sure all people working from home are productive and efficient.”

“Allow them to work from home a minimal amount of time and in the building the rest of the time. If the customers are ok with it going to their remote salesperson, rather than going to a ‘live’ person in-shop, allow it. As long as the need is there and they are actually working, it could be done. MAKE SURE you keep tabs on how the in-store workers feel; if they’re feeling overworked and over-loaded, then no way to the working-from-home option. Customer-contact workers are different from office workers or blueprint readers. If I had a blueprint reader that would read all prints from home, and give a list to a salesperson, that would be great. Salespeople get so many interruptions that it is hard to do. If that was the case, you could re-structure your commission payments. Our commission is all sales totaled and divided equally, which cuts down on cut-throat competition. By the way, we only allowed at-home during the first few weeks of our state’s shut down and only to an employee who was quarantined.”

“We let some work longer from home if they had underlying health issues or childcare issues. At a certain point we required all but outside sales to return to the facilities. We believed that our team and customers were better served from the office. However, we are now more open to employees working from home on an infrequent basis when there are personal needs to attend to at home. As a team, our people did very well working from home, but almost all wanted to come back. I only had a couple try to extend. We had about 50 at home at the peak.”

“Our business model requires everyone to be in the office and/or out in the field. We focus on the ‘personal touch’ and need our clients to see live and in person what the product bid looks like and how it operates, so that they can understand the value of the more expensive products and happily buy them.”

“I say let them! Employees working remotely is a reality for many companies and has been for years. With today’s technology, if an employee can effectively work remotely, there can actually be more benefits than drawbacks. Operating costs can be reduced, as the employee(s) are not onsite using water, electricity, goods, etc. Productivity is often higher, as morale increases, and the employee is happier. Employee effectiveness can still be measured by looking at their results and productivity. Team environment can still be maintained via meetings, certain days when the employee reports to the workplace or events and outings. Any organization that maintains more than one physical worksite already technically has some of the workforce working remotely from others.”

“Be flexible, but have a firm understanding of what is expected and set goals.”

“We have set up a schedule where the people who worked from home are allowed to continue to do so but are scheduled for certain days in the office. Everyone is in on Monday, for instance.”

“Working at home is not productive for the company they are employed by. We have noted that the person working at home does not have the resources which they have in the office. We have also noted that the person does not seem to be fully engaged in what they are supposed to be doing. They seem to be doing things for themselves, rather than being fully engaged in what they are employed to do. We all know that working from home has a number of distractions with your entire family being in the home when you are supposed to be working for the company. I am totally against companies letting that employee work at home and not being at the office.”

“From a fundamental thought, there has to be guidance, clear expectations, and communication from working remote. A blended flexibility that still brings the employees in to continue the teamwork is key. Instead of working remote all the time, a two day per week schedule or even once a week to work in office to continue that teamwork is important but ultimately a choice. We are allowing a flex schedule but are asking employees at a minimum come to the office two days a week. They’ve been very receptive. The key is compassion, and healthy communication between the manager and the employee.”

“Teams adjust to their current environment. You may have some employees who are closer now than they were prior to the pandemic. I wouldn’t put a stop to anything that was working well without meaningful conversations with the members of your team.”

“Allow employees to continue to work from home as long as they remain focused and productive.”

“Get them back a step at a time. Workers over 60 plus office staff with kids may be much more difficult due to underlying heath conditions and lack of babysitter, grandparents and day care.”

“We have some still working from home and I understand the comments made above on team environment and building a strong unity. We had all the outside and inside people come back and a couple of the managers work part from home and at the office because they too liked the environment at home. Who wouldn’t like being in your home unless you have a young family there that might disturb you!”

“If salespeople are productive working from home, then that works for us.”

“Assess the request as if it were for an ADA reasonable accommodation. Understand what employee truly desires (reason for request). Accommodate if reasonable and not opening pandora’s box. If not reasonable, work toward alternative solutions (partial accommodation). Reset clear goals and expectations with employee’s commitment in writing. Follow up to ensure compliance and success for employee and employer. Listen for opportunities to improve upon the accommodation and follow up as often and timely as needed to evaluate and amend as seen fit.”

“I expect senior management will continue to take a hybrid approach, i.e. some employees will be allowed to work remotely two to three days per week  but will continue to work in the office regularly.”

“Unless there is a reason for them to be in the office, and their work is up to standards, working from home is fine. An ‘in-office’ day or periodic in-person visits might be helpful to keep the team environment fresh.”

“Everyone that I had working from home has returned to working in the stores again. No one questioned coming back, if someone would have questioned coming back it would have depended on the person and the job responsibilities that they had whether they would have been allowed to continue working from home. If someone insisted that they continue working from home, I would give the employee a period of time to show me how it was going to work. At the end of this time period I would sit down with them and see what the positive and negatives were and make a final decision then.”

“If someone is more comfortable working from home and their productivity stays the same, then I would do a trial period where they would be allowed to work from home. After the period, I would take into account the feelings of the rest of the office on the matter (via survey or asking individually) to see if it was hurting the team environment.”

“We live in a culture that is becoming used to working and socializing remotely. While we may lose some the personal connectivity with co-workers or employer/employee, we also need to adapt to our culture and the familiarity of the next generation.”

“We are in an ever-changing environment and employers are going to need to change a little. If this person is instrumental in their day-to-day and team environment, is there a way to compromise? Maybe work from home two days and in the office the other three…and see how it goes? At the end of the day, you have to have a viable business, or no one has a job.”

“I think it depends on their job. Salespeople could work remotely in many cases. I am not sure it would be good to have the accounts payable staff work remotely.”

“I’m letting my back office staff work from home for now. We’re going to develop a permanent work at home policy.”

“I don’t think our business is overwhelmingly a ‘work from home business’. Technology may make it easier for certain jobs to be done remotely, but the chemistry of a lumberyard requires living, breathing human beings, and I may be too old-school to think remote workers are an effective substitute.”

“No. I would set a return to work date (as I have had to consider in another business). We are a team and I am not comfortable allowing anything into my business that will create a division among the employees.”

“If the benefits of some working at home far outweigh the negatives, steady as she goes…”

“Allow a certain amount of time for this person to work from home and reassess it then. If you need to set another point to reassess, do so after the initial date you set and discuss what is working and what’s not working.”

“Our employees wanted to come back to work at the store, except the ones who were making more money with unemployment. The advice I would give to this dealer is if they could do their work from home and still be profitable, and their customers don’t mind, then work from home. You may be expected to come to the store once or twice a week if needed.”

The reader who suggested the Real Issues topic will receive an LBM Journal prize pack, which includes a golf shirt, cap, mug, pen, and more.

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