In March, when we closed our Chicago and international offices in response to the pandemic, we didn’t think our June would look this way. Or our July. Or our August. We certainly didn’t anticipate this decision: we won’t ask any HealthJoy employee to return to work before March 1, 2021.
This “no questions asked” policy will mean that even if we open our office on our present target date of October 1, that reopening will be optional for employees. From the very beginning, we took the time to research our options, understand what we’d need to do to create safe work environments, and share ideas with our peers in the space. Most importantly, we asked our employees: what would make them feel safe at work?
What we learned helped inform our decisions about HealthJoy’s return to work strategy. It also gave us insights that will continue to tell us how we’ll work in the future. My hope is that sharing our process and understanding might help other leaders make these difficult choices alongside their employees.
Our employees want more clarity before returning to work
We sent a survey to all our 220 employees, and 169 responded, yielding a response rate of over 75%.
To start, we asked employees: if the office were to reopen, which best describes your intention around returning to work?
- 39% responded they would “prefer not to return until there is more clarity about COVID-19 and a vaccine or treatment.”
Other employees were more confident.
- 24% said they’d prefer to return to work as many days as allowed, and 22% responded they would occasionally return, 1-2 days per week if they could.
- The remaining 15% split the difference, saying they would like to return minimally, 1-2 days per month.
Overall, we considered the message from our more cautious employees to be the strongest. In short, many of our employees aren’t comfortable returning to work yet.
As the situation in our home cities around the world changes day by day, their message to “wait and see” makes sense.
Our employees feel effective working from home
We can’t overstate the challenges of working from home right now. We knew our employees were juggling not just a change in desks but family pressure, school schedules, canceled childcare, and even uncomfortable working conditions. We anticipated a drop in productivity and were ready for employees to rate their effectiveness as lower at home.
What we learned surprised us.
- On a scale of 1-5, 80% of employees ranked their work effectiveness 4 or 5. In fact, out of 169 respondents, 78 reported there had been no change in their effectiveness since transitioning to remote working.
After finding out that many employees were uncomfortable returning to work now, we were pleased to learn that they also felt effective working from home.
A dip in productivity wouldn’t drive our decisions about returning to work, but knowing that the trend is positive helps reinforce our decision to stay home for the summer. Some of our departments have shown encouraging increases in productivity, which backs up our survey results.
In the future, our employees want more remote work
Like many other companies, we’re using this time to reassess how and where we’ll work in the future. While we aren’t planning any significant changes to our remote work policy, we saw this as an opportunity to assess how employees feel about remote work after a period where it’s their only option.
Our survey found that most employees responded they wanted to be “flexibly remote;” 37% responded they wanted only to be remote when necessary for personal reasons. That’s good news for us, as HealthJoy already supports a policy of work-from-home flexibility.
Given the results of our effectiveness survey, we weren’t surprised to learn that a significant slice of employees (31%) said they’d like to be primarily remote, coming into the office only 1-2 days per week.
Eighteen percent responded they would want to be 50% remote, and 14% answered they would like to be completely remote.
Taken together, that means 63% of employees would like to work remotely for some portion of their week. Maybe employees are learning what’s possible with a more remote schedule, or perhaps their response reflected some fear about returning to the office. Regardless, it’s something we’ll take into consideration moving forward.
A lack of collaboration, despite Zoom
We asked employees what their most significant business challenges were since going remote. A lack of collaboration, and in particular quick collaboration, ranked among the top two business challenges. That was particularly interesting to us as employees also listed an increase in meetings as a top challenge.
With that in mind, we’re working to develop new collaboration methods that go beyond “let’s hop on Zoom.” We want employees to feel like they’re part of a team and can collaborate quickly, without needing to be on video or chatting on Slack all day.
We’re doing what we can to make employees comfortable
We asked employees to tell us a bit about their struggles, as well. Their top two concerns were a lack of human interaction and a lack of adequate office setup.
The first concern isn’t something we can safely remedy at this time. However, it is a crucial issue to keep a pulse on as we weigh the risks and rewards of returning to the office.
We can remedy the issue of inadequate office setup. In addition to sending out monitors to employees, we’re providing a stipend to purchase office furniture, headsets, or other tools to make the work-from-home experience more comfortable. Employees will be able to bring their desk furniture, including standing desks, monitors, and chairs, home for as long as needed.
Finally, we’ve made it clear that this is an open exchange. We want employees to know they are supported, both mentally and physically, during this time. Our Employee Assistance Program is always available through the HealthJoy app. But we’ve encouraged connections among coworkers, teams, and with our People Operations team, too. We will continue to ask how we can do better.
Our goal is to help employees work as safely and productively as possible, for as long as our “new normal” is necessary.