Q&A: Should we keep flexible work arrangements as COVID vaccine rates rise?

Lora Patterson, HR Advisor at Zenefits
Apr 22, 2021

Now that millions of American adults are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine every day, should flexible work arrangements be here to stay? In this episode of POPS!, Zenefits HR Advisor Lora Patterson breaks down what small business owners should take into consideration when making plans for returning to the office—or not. You’ll hear findings from an […]

Now that millions of American adults are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine every day, should flexible work arrangements be here to stay?

In this episode of POPS!, Zenefits HR Advisor Lora Patterson breaks down what small business owners should take into consideration when making plans for returning to the office—or not. You’ll hear findings from an employee survey about flexible work productivity and how to gather feedback around returning to work from your own employees.

After you listen:

Ask a SMB Workplace Question and get featured on POPS! The People Ops podcast.

In this Q&A episode, you’ll hear: 

  • [00:34-01:50] How to know when it’s safe to bring employees back to the office
  • [01:52-02:35] How to determine what will work best for your company
  • [02:35-05:29] What the data says about how employees feel about flexible work 
  • [05:40-08:53] Questions to include in an employee survey about work arrangements 

POPS Star Bio

Lora Patterson is an HR Advisor at Zenefits, where she advises clients on a broad range of human resources issues including employment laws and regulations, management practices, policies and procedures, and best practices regarding people management, development, and engagement. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.


Lora: How long to keep flexible work arrangements now that vaccine rates are climbing? 

Didi: Welcome to Pop’s, the show that shows you how to shift from human resources paperwork to people operations for the new world of work. How? By answering one question at a time.

Today to help us answer your question. Here’s Lora Patterson, HR advisor at Zenefits. 

Lora: The first question that needs to be addressed is when is it safe? You want to make sure that if you’re bringing these employees back to the workplace, you can guarantee to a certain extent that they’re going to be okay. And they don’t need to worry about coming back in and working now with the vaccine coming out and being more readily available that’s definitely going to help. However, you’re always going to have some employees that may not feel comfortable getting that vaccine. So it’s important to rely on resources like the CDC and OSHA, who are coming out with guidelines on how to make the office safe. The next thing you of course want to look at is your city, your county, and your state to see how they’re weighing in on when it’s okay for companies to reopen and at what capacity they can reopen. So definitely look at your location and the guidance at your level and see if it’s okay to reopen, and if so, what steps do you need to take. Now, the next thing you want to look into, just from a safety aspect, is any sort of legitimate concerns from employees, whether this is an ongoing medical condition or maybe a medical condition of a family member that they live with. You will want to consider that when deciding who needs to return to the workplace. The next thing I want to go over is what works best for your company. What can work for you may not work for somebody else, and it may not work for what they’re trying to accomplish or what your company’s trying to accomplish.

So it’s very important to see how has the last year affected your company? How has work from home effected your productivity. Did it increase it? Did it decrease it? How did it affect engagement with your employees? Did you guys have a lot of employees that decided to leave the company, or did you have employees that really enjoyed it and enjoyed that flexibility and you hired on more employees?

Another thing to look at is how did your teams communicate while they worked from home? Was that effective? Now, the next thing I want to go into is your employees and their input on returning to work. Now, before I dive in, we conducted a survey for employees that worked at companies with one to 500 employees to get their feedback on flexible work schedules.

We found a lot of interesting data that might be helpful to share before you actually look at your own employees. So there’s four points to go over. The first one is how much of a flexible work policy is weighing on employees’ minds when it comes to staying with their employer. So does this really factor into that decision of do I stay and continue working or do I look for something else? So in our survey, 36%, either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that a lack of a flexible work arrangement would eventually lead them to leave their company. That’s something to look into. Is this going to be a pain point that if you bring people back, they’re not going to want to stay for very long.

The next point to look at is how does it affect productivity. To a large degree, you want employees to be happy, but you’re also running a business and you want your business to be productive. When we asked employees how a flexible work arrangement affected their productivity, 78% agreed that a flexible arrangement actually would boost or his already boosted their productivity.

So from an employee standpoint, they feel like working from home actually really helps them be productive. The next one to look into is how important is a flexible work arrangement to employees. Now, the survey results show that 70% of our sponsors rate a flexible work arrangement as important as salary or health benefits.

No, I find this very interesting because a lot of times when working in HR, when you’re interviewing employees, you do have those questions around, okay, what’s the PTO policy like, what are my health benefits? What’s the salary? What’s the flexibility around the salary? Now that next question is what’s the flexibility around my work arrangement, especially in the last year, you’re going to have employees coming into the office that people are either have already been working from home at your company or at another company, and they have certain expectations around that. The last one to look at is, 77% of people claimed that it’s a major consideration in future job selection. Given the high levels of reported satisfaction and productivity compounded by the value that employees are clearly placing on this, a flexible work policy is likely to become a competitive advantage for small businesses.

So this really is a way for you to either attract new employees or keep the employees that you have. Okay, now that we’ve gone over some data, I think it’s important to look at how your employees actually feel about this, especially with the ongoing pandemic. One way of doing that is sending out a survey.

This is a great way to include employees in this decision process and gauge their comfort levels with returning. But I thought it’d be helpful to go over some questions that you may want to address. The first ones are pretty straightforward. How has working from home been so far? Do you feel like you’re able to perform your job well while working from home? Do you feel like you have the equipment you need in order to work from home? I mean, you’re really looking at how have things been in the past couple of months and were there any case of anything we need to fix. I think we’re going to notice, or you’re going to notice that everyone’s going to differ a little bit on this. For some people, working from home has been great. Maybe they have the designated office and being from home, they can be productive and get their work done. While others may not have that and they may be sharing that space with children or a spouse who’s also working from home, so it really doesn’t work for them. Now, the next thing to look into is how they feel about returning to work.

So the types of questions you’ll want to ask is if the office were to reopen, how comfortable are you coming back? How interested are you with working from home? Would you be interested in a hybrid work environment that allows you to work from home a portion of the week? Do you feel like you’re able to communicate effectively with your managers and teammates while you work from home? Now, you can also gauge how productive people feel. You could also throw in a question around that is if they feel productive being at home. But the next one that I would definitely address is any concerns they have around safety. We mentioned that the company should already be looking at OSHA and CDC guidance.

They should also be looking at state specific guidance and mandates. But I think it’s also important to ask your employees, what concerns do you have with returning to the office? This could be an open-ended question. It could also be a list that you provide them of are these possible concerns that you have? Check the ones that apply.

If you’re having the employees return to the office. You’re going to have questions and concerns, no matter what. So, this is a great way for you to gauge those concerns early on, and then proactively seek some sort of solution to them. The next thing you could ask is what do employees need to feel safe with returning back to work?

It’s one thing to say, you know, are you comfortable with it, but another one to say, okay, what are some things we could put into place that would make you feel better? Now, this could also be a list that you provide. If you’ve already done this, if your company’s already come up with your return to work plan and you already have those safety measures outlined, you can review that with employees and say, if all of this was implemented, would you feel okay returning?

If not, what do you think we’re missing? What do we also need to address? That’s a really helpful way to include them in that development of here’s our safety plan, everyone feels included and heard, and we’re ready to return. Once you gauge how your company’s doing, how things are doing on a national scale and then a local scale, and then how your employees feel, at that point, it’s time to determine, okay, when is it a good time to return to the office? Or are we going to want to tweak how we returned to the office? Are we going to want to look into some more flexibility around working from home? And this can look like a lot of different things, and that’s why I think it’s important to survey your company and survey your teams.

I don’t think it’s as simple as saying everyone’s going to work from home or everyone’s now in the office. I think you can look at solutions that are specific to your needs and the wants of your employees. 

Didi: Do you have a question for our experts? You can always email me at [email protected] or head on over to zenefits.com/pops-podcast for more insights on content for this show and our others. Thanks for listening.


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