Pros and Cons from an Employee Engagement Perspective

Saying “our world has changed” during the pandemic is quite an understatement. Perhaps no professional impact has been more significant than the shift to Work from Home (WFH). While the sudden and unexpected transition to WFH was disruptive and posed some real challenges, multifamily organization have begun to appreciate the numerous benefits remote work offers. What are the implications for the future of multifamily?

The positives of a WFH approach include increased work/life balance and improved employee engagement. If WFH is embraced as a long-term strategy, companies may even experience reduced overhead as office space requirements are reduced. Global Workplace Analytics reports companies allowing employees to work from home at least part-time save about $11,000/year.

Let’s explore the pros and cons of the great WFH experiment that COVID-19 has “gifted” to the apartment industry.

Work From Home Communication Challenges (and a Silver Lining)

One of the obvious and greatest challenges of a WFH approach, especially one that was not thoughtfully adopted but rather rushed into out of necessity, is the separation of people. When leaders and co-workers are separated, communication becomes more challenging. The inability to pull teams together around a conference table is a loss. The disappearance of the casual conversation over coffee is a loss. No question about it. But, these challenges are not insurmountable. In fact, we are seeing multifamily leaders rise to the communication challenges to remain connected to their associates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders have always known that it is critical to address employee concerns, but the pandemic has brought into focus the benefits of two-way communication. Leaders of remote teams have discovered the importance of asking for feedback, listening, and acting in response to employees’ concerns.

The Swift Bunny Employee Engagement Index shows that effective communication can positively impact 4 of the top 8 opportunities to improve (topics highly correlated with retention that have the largest gaps between expectations and reality): transparent communication; employees feeling valued; creating a positive work environment; providing enough communication. Multifamily leaders who have learned to be better communicators due to their workforce suddenly being dispersed to their homes are now experiencing a silver lining: greater satisfaction and heightened employee engagement. These are benefits that will persist even after the pandemic has passed.

Work From Home Practical Challenges

Many employees have found that some of the greatest challenges to WFH are practical ones. For example, GetApp reported most survey respondents said not having remote-work technology is what has most negatively impacted productivity. WhistleOut reported 35% of employees who transitioned to WFH struggled with weak Internet connections, and 43% reported having to use their phone as a hotspot during the crisis. Swift Bunny’s COVID-19 Employee Impact Study found many multifamily associates revealed that they lacked a dedicated workspace, furnishings, or equipment. Others expressed concern about the costs of needed technology and supplies.

One of the greatest challenge with WFH is an employee not having an ideal workspace or all of the assets needed. Companies should take steps to make WFH efficient and effective for their associates. This includes providing the resources, technology, and support team members need. Beyond multifamily there are examples of employers doing exactly that: Shopify employees were given a $1,000 stipend to purchase supplies for their home office spaces; Twitter reimbursed their employees for home office equipment and furniture purchased. In addition, many companies now allow employees to expense report home office supplies plus a portion of mobile device and Internet service monthly bills.It is appropriate for multifamily leaders to scrutinize their own policies and procedures around resources and support and adapt as needed.

Work from Home Schedule Challenges

Working from home during the pandemic has forced employees to juggle their work and personal life in a whole new way. For many, office distractions now include their spouse, children, roommates, pets, or noisy neighbors. Employees who are parents or caregivers have been especially taxed. Some leaders and organizations have relaxed the rules around “office hours”, realizing that not only is a rigid 9-5 schedule impractical now, it may also not be required. Relaxed rules around work hours have allowed many associates to better manage their personal responsibilities while still meeting the needs of their customers and co-workers.

On the flip side, when there are no longer boundaries between the office and home, it becomes difficult to step away from non-stop work demands. Many respondents in Swift Bunny’s COVID-19 Employee Impact Study cited the immense work pressures as a result of the disruption to “business as usual” during the pandemic, with increased resident contact and demands being high on the list of stressors. Some forward-thinking firms have implemented policies to specifically address email communication; it is simply not necessary to respond to email inquiries at all hours of the day. Working around the clock is detrimental to employees’ mental health. Working from home should not mean employees are always working.

Cost and Time Savings

WFH creates the opportunity for companies to move into smaller office spaces and realize enormous cost savings from reduced rent and overhead. The widespread adoption of remote communication technology such as video conferencing can also mean reduced business travel, as local meetings can be minimized or avoided. Individual contributors may also experience savings when their commute is reduced or eliminated. Costs associated with public transportation, vehicle ownership and maintenance, and fuel may be reduced, providing a welcome savings to employees.

Employee Satisfaction

Despite the challenges I have outlined here, it turns out that many employees enjoy working from home. In fact, Gallup sited that approximately 60% of American workers would prefer to work remotely as much as possible, even when the pandemic restrictions are lifted. In another Gallup survey, 54% of workers said they would leave their job for one that let them work remotely. Team members report numerous positives about working from home, including improved productivity and better work/life balance. For these associates, WFH provides a real boost to job satisfaction. Leaders are wise to pay attention: there is much to be said about team members who are highly satisfied and productive. In fact, the Gallup organization defines engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” Could it be that in our accidental experiment in working from home we have stumbled on a secret formula for increasing employee engagement? It is worth examining!

Some may say engagement does not matter during times like this because “employees should feel lucky” to have a job. Ouch. Engagement always matters; disengaged employees do not positively impact company performance. In fact, they undermine success.

What Does the Future Hold?

Some say work from home cannot work in multifamily, but I do not agree. Other industries such as retail, restaurants, and hotels have the same onsite, regional and corporate office staffing model that we have, and they have successfully incorporated WFH into their operations. Due to its appeal to employees and the efficiencies it can bring, I believe multifamily should permit at least part-time WFH for many employees. The most challenging position to allow WFH is maintenance technicians, of course, due to the nature of their work. Leasing, management, and corporate support roles lend themselves more easily to the WFH model.

Will the multifamily industry embrace a WFH approach, whether full-time or part-time, for the long term? Should we do so? What do you think? I would love to hear about your company’s experience. Please tell me about it in the comments!

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Interested in this topic and want to learn more? Check out this article from NPR: Is Remote Work Here To Stay?