It has been over two months since the coronavirus pandemic prompted offices across the country to close their doors and adopt makeshift work-from-home policies. Now, state governments are starting to lift lockdowns and companies are faced with the choice to bring employees back to the office or keep them at home.
While some workers had a difficult time adjusting to life outside the office in the beginning, most have come to appreciate the peace of mind that comes from staying home during a public health crisis.
“Early on, Truckstop.com CEO Paris Cole joked that it seemed like people were more afraid of working from home than they were the virus,” Truckstop.com Chief People Officer Victoria Roberts said. “That quickly changed.”
Roberts pointed to two distinct factors that contributed to that change of heart: Coronavirus cases started popping up closer to home and people adjusted to the new work environment.
Employers have learned new ways to engage employees in a digital world. Employees have learned how to connect with their supervisors, colleagues and subordinates in a whole new way.
“We are creating an engaged and productive virtual environment,” Roberts said. “We are making sure all of our partners have a laptop with a camera so they can see each other and stay connected visually. We know that really makes a difference.”
At Truckstop.com, employees are called partners. Roberts said many of the company’s partners have excelled in their home environments, with some teams even posting their best sales numbers ever under the new arrangement.
In some states, however, companies are now allowed to bring their employees back into the building. That process may end up being far more complex than anticipated, and it is raising questions about which environment is actually best for employees and employers alike.
When Roberts polled Truckstop.com employees about their work environment preferences, the overwhelming majority said they wanted to continue working from home. Most cited safety reasons. Roberts said she expects employees at other companies are feeling the same way. Listening to those concerns is paramount.
While Truckstop.com opened its campuses on May 18, Roberts said the company listened to the feedback from their partners and made sure that no one felt pressured to come back into the office if they did not feel safe. The large majority of employees plan to continue working from home, according to Roberts. The small minority that have chosen to return to the office will be required to follow strict safety and sanitation guidelines.
“We had a smaller number of partners that could not handle working from home. Some of them could not concentrate with children at home, had no appropriate workspace or just needed human connection,” she said. “We are opening our offices for them. If they want an office space, we will follow government guidelines on return to the office.”
Roberts feels this flexibility will be an important hallmark of returning to work for most companies. If employees have the ability to work productively at home, listening to their fears and desires will make for a much smoother transition than simply mandating their return.
“My advice going forward is to really love on your employees, care for them, listen to them and take action on what they need,” Roberts said. “We have proven that human resources is no longer just about hiring and firing. We are about creating a culture of connected and equipped individuals.”