At the start of 2020, conversation around remote work focused on its benefits for delivering greater flexibility and mobility for a millennial workforce. Today, remote work is not just an added benefit, but a necessity.

Instead of evaluating how to support a handful of remote employees, businesses must now consider what a fully-remote workforce looks like in the long term. Employers must also consider the individual needs of their employees who may need longer term flexibility or revised work hours. For example, some employees may be juggling child care responsibilities with their day-to-day work if their children cannot return to school in the fall. 

Placing wellness at the forefront of remote work operations means that the unique circumstances associated with the pandemic are considered. Wellness is about supporting employees across-the-board. This not only includes checking in on mental health and providing opportunities for physical health; it also includes providing greater clarity and certainty for the entire organization through communication and individualized work-from-home plans.

The current environment: remote work forges on

According to a recent report, many of the country’s largest school districts are not returning to in-person classes in the fall including San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, New York, Atlanta, Nashville, and Detroit to name a few. The lack of school openings in the fall impacts businesses’ ability to bring employees back into the office as well. Many parents need to stay at home to manage child care on top of their job functions. 

A recent longitudinal study from Qualia found that remote work is likely to persist across all regions of the country. As remote work continues for the foreseeable future, the stop-gap solutions to manage a distributed workforce will no longer work.

Remote work during a pandemic: unique considerations for success

Information must be decentralized

A recent Gallup survey found that employees are feeling less sure of their employer’s plan of action in response to COVID-19 as the virus wages on. Poll results collected in May indicated that 51% of employees strongly agreed that “their employer has communicated a clear plan of action in response to COVID-19.” Just one month later, the rate of confidence dropped to 41%. 

This uncertainty can lead to unrest and ultimately, less productivity if left unchecked. Leaders must decentralize information by empowering managers with clear plans of action. Managers can be the conduit between leadership and employees to ensure everyone understands where the business is headed and how those goals will be achieved. 

Different households, different needs: work from home must be individualized 

The ideal work-from-home environment may resemble a clutter-free workspace, plenty of quiet, and a strong internet connection. This is not available to everyone right now, especially when the pandemic is forcing many households to share space with their children, spouses, other family members, or roommates during work hours.

Employees with family members and children at home (perhaps even extended family members including the elderly) will certainly feel more stress during work hours. It’s critical that employers individualize their staff’s work-from-home schedule and expectations. For some employees, this may mean a revised schedule to accommodate childcare needs. For others, this may mean they will not return to the office for some time (due to the safety of their elderly family members), even if the company returns to in-person operations. 

Transparent communication is more important than ever

The earlier mentioned Gallup poll also found that employees are feeling less prepared and confident in their role as the coronavirus continues. The poll indicated a 20% decline in respondents saying that they felt “well prepared to do [their] job” between May and June 2020. 

Feelings of uncertainty can grow when employees don’t see their peers or leadership daily. This uncertainty is amplified during a pandemic when information shifts rapidly week-to-week. It’s critical that multiple lines of communication are opened and that information is over-communicated across a variety of channels. For example, a major company update should be distributed across email, communicated during virtual company meetings, and discussed one-on-one over video conference during individual check ins. It’s also helpful to have a video recording of the business leader discussing the update so anyone can reference the recording at any time. 

Mental health initiatives go a long way 

Marneau Shepell, a leading provider of mental health HR solutions, collected data on more than 5,000 employees nationwide in May and June 2020. Their longitudinal Health Index study found that even as parts of the country reopen, feelings of isolation deepend compared to the prior month. The study also found that 10% of employees “do not have the will or energy to do things they did before.” 

Businesses can take steps to provide support to those experiencing isolation and depression. In addition to check-ins from managers and peers, businesses can organize regular virtual events to help employees feel connected. A few examples (used at Qualia) include:

  • Virtual meditation, yoga, or other fitness sessions led by a certified instructor or someone from the company with experience
  • Weekly team lunches or Friday happy hours over video chat 
  • Common interest groups facilitated by the company (e.g. monthly book club, or groups to discuss the latest episodes of a popular TV show)

The road ahead

As the pandemic continues to impact businesses and economies globally, it’s critical for title, escrow, and mortgage lending businesses to proactively consider the future of the real estate industry. To stay up-to-date on industry trends and Qualia’s innovative developments, click below to subscribe to our blog.