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Our Employees Can’t Work From Home. How Do We Make Their Lives More Flexible?

Back Article Apr 7, 2022 By Suzanne Lucas

I manage a laboratory, which requires staff to be on-site around the clock. Our analysts and other on-site workers were classified as essential workers early in the pandemic, and they diligently came into the lab even when the rest of the world was sheltering in place. Today, many people are still working from home, doing hybrid work or otherwise enjoying more flexible lives, but my employees’ workdays look more or less the same as they did before the pandemic. I’d like to thank them for coming in every day and help them benefit from the ways the world of work has changed. Is there any way to make my on-site employees’ lives more flexible?

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While the narrative is that everyone wants to work from home and practically everyone is doing so, it’s not true. There are plenty of jobs that must be done away from home. Laboratories certainly fall into that category, and we are all thankful for laboratory scientists and all they do for us!

But even if your employees love their work (after all, when they decided to work in a laboratory, they knew they wouldn’t be working from home), it can be frustrating when your car is the only one pulling out of the neighborhood in the morning. And with continued COVID-19 restrictions, working on-site can be draining. But that doesn’t mean you can’t improve flexibility for employees who must come into a physical location to work. Here are some ideas.

Provide on-site perks

Think about ways you can make your employees’ work environment more pleasant and worthwhile. How about free meals if you have a cafeteria, or a catered lunch from time to time if you don’t? You might reprise the old-fashioned perk of taking care of employees’ dry cleaning, or if you have on-site washing machines, let employees bring in their regular laundry to be washed, dried and folded. This type of thing really can be helpful for people who have to be in every day. Another on-site perk you can offer that won’t cost anything extra is allowing your employees to have their packages delivered to the office. It gives everyone one of the perks of working from home — no porch pirates.

Offer rewards — both monetary and otherwise

Everyone wants money, so if you can raise salaries or offer bonuses to thank your employees for their hard work, that’s always a plus. But raising some team spirit with high-quality branded jackets or Yeti cups can also show your appreciation. And then there are gift cards — for local restaurants, the grocery store, or a general Visa or Amex card that can be used anywhere.

Build flexible schedules

Does everyone have to be there at 8:30? Or can your employees build their own schedules? Some laboratories, like hospitals, work through the night. The graveyard, early-morning or evening shifts may suit some personal lives better than the 9-to-5 norm, so ask employees’ preferences before assigning them shifts. Of course, most client-facing businesses, such as dentist offices, don’t have as many shifts to choose from, but employers at these kinds of businesses can still ask their employees’ preferences and build new schedules around them.

Increase vacation time

While your employees must be on-site during work hours, you can increase the time they have away from work so that they can spend more time with their work-from-home spouses, family and friends. What does a generous PTO policy look like? The average American has 10 days of vacation, plus holidays and sick days. You will need more than that if you want to compete with employers that allow remote work. Start at a minimum of 15 vacation days, plus sick days and holidays. That may seem like a lot, but your employee retention is important. Keep in mind that California requires you to pay out unused vacation time when someone quits, so you will want to put a cap on accruals.

Provide the best management possible

You’ve heard that people leave managers, not companies, and it’s mostly true. So make sure your leaders are competent and that you deal with all problems promptly and professionally. Train your managers on how to give positive and negative feedback, how to handle requests for medical and religious accommodations, and how to support employees. Good management will do more to retain staff than anything else you can do.

Ask your employees what they want

I’ve saved this for last, but it is the first step any time you try to make employees happier. They know better than anyone else what would give them the flexibility they need. Maybe they would prefer something other than or in addition to flexible hours. Perhaps they want tuition reimbursement, stock options, and pizza on Fridays. Maybe they are less concerned about working from home than having sufficient time off to take care of sick kids. So ask — and, importantly, listen. Make your employees your true priority and they will prioritize working with you, even if it means commuting.

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