'Why go back?': Accommodating employees in remote work setups

Clash of expectations between employees and employers poses significant challenge

'Why go back?': Accommodating employees in remote work setups

As organizations worldwide grappled with the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, one positive outcome emerged - a heightened demand for employment lawyers and HR professionals.

Sheldon. H. Dowding, who currently consults (S.H.D Consulting) and has worked for companies in the non-profit, private, and public sector sheds light on the key challenges faced by employers during this period of transition from full-time office work to hybrid roles. 

Accommodating employees in remote work

"One of the biggest challenges we encountered was the need to accommodate employees who had excelled in remote work during the pandemic," he tells HRD.

For example, a scenario where an IT programmer, let's call him James, had been working remotely for two years, successfully meeting performance appraisals and even surpassing expectations. However, when the company announced a return to the office starting September 1st, James expressed a desire to continue working from home.

"From James perspective, he had received positive feedback, achieved his goals, and received all the associated benefits, including bonuses and incentives,” explains Dowding. “He argued that his work had not been affected by the remote setup and that he needed accommodation, especially considering recent life changes such as having a child."

This clash of expectations between employees and employers poses a significant challenge. While remote was work necessarily throughout the pandemic, once the immediate danger was over many CEOs were anxious that workers return to the mothership. Employees felt differently.

According to research from Perceptyx, in a survey of more than 750,000 employees worldwide, only 4% said they wanted to return to the office full-time post-pandemic. What’s more, 64% of workers readily admit that they’d look for a new job If they were made to return to the office.

Here, Dowding emphasizes the need for recognition and understanding from management

"James believes he deserves accommodation for his outstanding performance and asks, 'What do we go back to work for?'"

Such considerations are particularly relevant for departments like IT, where a large portion of the workforce may prefer to continue working remotely. Legal implications further complicate the situation for companies. 

"During the height of the pandemic, many organizations did not anticipate these challenges," adds Dowding.

Recognition in accommodation process

As companies plan their return-to-work strategies, they must be cognizant of the legal aspects involved. Employers need to carefully consider their obligations to accommodate employees who request to continue working remotely, especially those with a strong track record of success.

And, the transition to hybrid work arrangements presents HR professionals with a wholly unique set of challenges. From maintaining culture to fostering a case of connectedness, watching out for cyber threats and managing payroll overseas – the issues are far from over for HR practitioners.

However, it’s important that these sector challenges don’t get in the way of recognizing and accommodating your people to the best of your abilities.

“It’s crucial for employers to recognize the accomplishments of their employees and address their need for accommodation,” adds Dowding.

Simultaneously, legal considerations should guide organizations in crafting policies that strike a balance between business requirements and employee preferences in the evolving landscape of work.

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