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When Work at Home Isn’t Possible

In the midst of the largest disruption to work in our lifetimes, we’ve seen that many jobs can be ad...

Posted by Lisa Farrell, Marketing Manager on Apr 13, 2020 2:58:40 PM

In the midst of the largest disruption to work in our lifetimes, we’ve seen that many jobs can be adapted to flexible, remote work. But what about jobs that can’t be moved online?

Industries such as manufacturing, retail, hospitality and healthcare heavily rely on in-person shift work. But many of these employees are currently homeschooling their children, caring for family members and dealing with other COVID-19-driven changes, all while continuing to go to work to provide their community with necessary services. Adapting work schedules to accommodate hourly employees during the COVID-19 crisis is essential, too.

There are several different models for structuring work when remote work isn’t possible. If you listen to your employees’ needs and apply a little creativity, you can find solutions to support a healthy work-life balance for your workforce, even during this time of crisis. Here are some ideas for building flexibility into your scheduling model.

Aim for Shift-Life Balance

Shift work can be irregular, last-minute — and stressful. It’s hard for employees who work shifts to manage their responsibilities if they don’t know when they’ll be working or if they’ll be called into work. Employers can respect their employees’ well-being by applying the principles of shift-life balance to the scheduling process, suggests Zoe Young, founder and director of Half the Sky and author of Women’s Work.

Those principles include awareness, stability and informal flexibility. “Employees need to know in advance when they’re going to be working,” Young says. “It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how often it’s overlooked.” Posting the schedule a month in advance gives employees time to make plans for childcare and other caregiving responsibilities. And with COVID-19 causing so much uncertainty right now, a little preparedness and communication surrounding schedules can go a long way.

Following a consistent schedule is essential for helping employees balance their lives while they and their families are under stay-at-home orders. Working the same days every week promotes a weekly routine, makes it easier for employees to ensure they have childcare, and minimizes employee stress. If you need an employee to work alternate hours, they should know well in advance so they can make changes to their schedule and caregiving responsibilities. And a consistent schedule also promotes much-needed pay stability during this time since employees know how many hours they’ll work each week.

Finally, informal flexibility while at work helps employees manage their whole lives, especially right now as we face so many additional challenges. “Being trusted to take time out of your day to take a call from your elderly parents, for example, is incredibly valuable,” Young says. Employees may need time off to care for young children whose daycare facilities or schools have been closed or they may need to work more flexible hours to accommodate caregiving responsibilities. Allowing employees to make time for their essential responsibilities helps them find the right balance between work and their daily lives during this crisis.

Accommodate Employees’ Needs

Your employees’ daily obligations are as unique as they are, and in our new normal under COVID-19, this is even more true. To accommodate your employees’ changing obligations, you have to listen to them and respect their needs. “When you put employees front and center in your scheduling process, it’s easy to come up with a set of principles that are humane and allow individuals to fit work into their whole lives,” Young says.

Listen to what your employees’ needs and concerns are, and don’t be afraid to branch outside of the traditional staffing model to accommodate them. If one of your employees is a single parent, for example, a week-on/week-off arrangement that coincides with their caregiving responsibilities could be best, suggests Matthew Stevenson, a partner at Mercer. “For this arrangement someone else watches the kids every other week,” Stevenson says, “while the employee works a week of double-shifts.” This allows parents to earn the same amount of money while ensuring their childcare needs are met.

Give employees a voice in their own work arrangements. This promotes transparency and produces more equitable schedules. There are additional benefits for employee experience and retention: “When they feel their needs are being taken into account, employees will feel more engaged with their work and stay with the organization longer,” Dr. Young points out. How companies treat their frontline employees during this crisis will go a long way to determining the future of their employer brand.

Explore Flexible Work Models

We don’t know what work will look like post-COVID-19, but we can be sure it will be different. Now is the time to look ahead to non-traditional, flexible staffing models. The healthcare industry in particular has had to pivot and make changes to staffing to support the current crisis, Stevenson suggests. “Some organizations, for example, are pooling employees across regional systems to create centralized staffing,” Stevenson says. This increases the staffing pool so that organizations aren’t short-staffed and also supports more equitable, flexible staffing for employees.

Other models include job-sharing. Job-sharing splits a full-time job into two part-time positions. This provides flexibility for parents and caregivers who need to work limited hours. Co-managing, for example, can make use of someone’s skills while still allowing them to work part-time. Additionally, job-sharing supports business resilience since there will always be someone in the role, Young suggests.

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