How WFH strategies can alienate your employees who have to WFW

Among the many workforce transformations prompted by the pandemic, work-from-home (WFH) strategies are among the most hotly debated by managers and frontline staff alike. But by focusing solely on how to make WFH work for the organization and some of its employees, companies may be missing a much more problematic issue: how it affects dedicated, hard-working staff who don’t have an option.

In many service industries – especially healthcare, hospitality, and brick-and-mortar retail – individuals who provide the core functions of the business don’t have WFH options. And they often resent those who do.

We’ve seen this tension first-hand in focus groups with staff in healthcare organizations. One staff member on the front lines related, “I was at a meeting and overheard an executive thank an employee for working from home, saying that must have been hard and kind of lonely.”

“Can you believe that?! I was really offended by his comments when I’ve been here all through COVID.”

Often at the heart of work-from-work (WFW) employees’ frustration is a lack of sensitivity and recognition for their contributions.

So, is insisting that everyone return to work on Monday morning the only answer? Hardly. Organizations going to this extreme would likely encourage more resignations in hard-to-recruit positions that can be performed perfectly well at home.

Rather, here are four ideas and strategies for balancing the new workplace reality that some employees have to work in-person while other can work effectively at home.

Managers in Healthcare with WFW staff should be onsite full-time, too

When a manager’s most important job is leading and supporting his/her team, they have to be where those employees are. If that’s in the office, at the warehouse, or on a patient care unit, that’s where the leader must be to be credible. Sure, managers can perform some administrative tasks remotely, but spending too much time away from the office sends the wrong message. This geographic distance can help build a wall of emotional distance and resentment by the team.

Staff who support onsite colleagues must be visible and easily accessible, whether that’s in-person or remote

A few months ago, a friend who works in a major health care organization called me late on a Friday afternoon because she was dealing with a fairly major crisis with a fellow staff member and needed my advice. One of the first questions I asked is whether she had called HR. She just laughed. “Yeah, they went home a long time ago, and we don’t know how to get in touch with them,” was her frustrated reply.

Whether it’s human resources, IT, finance or another internal support group, not knowing how to reach them is like going to their physical office to find the door locked and an “On Vacation” sign posted on the window. During regular business hours, staff should know exactly how to get in touch with support staff. Staff should answer the phone consistently (no voice mail!) to offer an immediate response, even when there might not be an immediate answer.

Organizations should communicate a clear strategy and plan for why some employees continue to WFH

Expanding the pool of available candidates, minimizing space costs, and improving retention in key roles are all good reasons to continue to have some employees work from home. But even when they are prudent, the benefits of WFH strategies may not be clear to all team members. Rather than say nothing and hope WFW employees won’t notice, it is smarter to be transparent in communication about the company’s evolving hybrid work strategies. When leaders emphasize benefits to both employees and customers, team members better understand and accept evolving workforce structures.

Consistent recognition of the contribution of all team members is more important than ever

Lack of recognition is one of the six major root causes of organizational burnout according to research by Dr. Christina Maslach of UC Berkeley. And today, it’s not enough to just recognize the work that WFW staff are doing; it’s important to acknowledge that leaders and the company’s customers appreciate that they are here, in-person doing it.

Without a clearly communicated workforce strategy that explains why some will continue to WFH, it looks like the company is simply letting people WFH because it is convenient. In service industries especially, acknowledging and recognizing the contributions of frontline workers who are there to meet the needs of customers/clients day after day has never been more critical for recruitment and retention.

Contact us for a free consultation to gain insight into how you can better manage your healthcare employees and your organization’s work from home strategies.