As our California society fully opens back up, a big subject that both employers and employees are considering is whether workers should stay home or start commuting to the office again. Naturally, some jobs require a physical presence, such as hospitality, retail and the food and beverage industries.

We are seeing different attitudes from employers about returning to work. Some major companies have announced that any employees choosing to continue working from home would receive a pay cut. This would seem to indicate an ‘old-school’ attitude that if they’re paying you, they want to see you in your cubicle – regardless of how productive you have been at home.

Many companies are giving a choice to certain applicable employees to choose office, home, or a hybrid.
This seems to indicate more of a desire to retain workers and make concessions to keep them happy. 2020 was taxing on everyone, but we are now transitioning from the strange times of 2020 to a different type of strange in 2021, and the more accommodating an employer can be, the more stable the work force will be.

As a Managed IT services company, we at IT Support LA had certain personnel that had to show up during the pandemic - specifically, our team of field technicians. For a time, we had set up our usually in-house IT Help Desk Support team at home, and it worked better than we expected, but now everyone is back in the office, which helps with the occasional ‘odd’ issue they encounter – it’s very handy to ask a co-worker, “Hey, have you ever seen something like this?” However, in the same respect, it’s also easy for them to waste time talking about sports or movies.

In our own company culture, we are goal and reward oriented. As long as all our IT support and services people are handling the ‘tickets’ (client requests for assistance) with the speed and in the numbers we expect, nobody rides herd on how much time they spend arguing whether Star Wars or Star Trek is better – yes, it’s that geeky in an IT support room.

Presumably, many of us in the IT Support Los Angeles Community underwent the transition in a similar fashion, although some of the smaller or even solo practice IT service ‘Guys’ perhaps did not have an operation that had the sophistication to allow for home-based IT Help Desk Support. We know this to be the case because after the initial scramble to set up thousands of employees all over the Southland to be able to work from home, we became the beneficiary of some ‘competitors’ shoddy work.

It is no secret that this worldwide transition to a remote workforce became a feeding ground for cyber-criminals. If IT consulting services did not set up remote networks properly, vulnerabilities in both reliability and security are exposed. This is like blood in the water for these cyber-sharks. We were more than happy to take on new clients when this below-par work caused problems.

Is remote access secure?

Even the old school localized network with remote accessibility can be rendered secure by a knowledgeable and experienced IT support provider, but the mass exodus to the cloud has enabled automatic security measures that border on bulletproof (NOTHING is ever 100% bulletproof).

Research by RapidScale showed the effect that COVID and the new ‘Work From Home’ model had on business in general, and two points stood out:
1): “94% of businesses say they saw an improvement in security after implementing cloud solutions.”
2): “43% of businesses that experience a disaster never reopen.”

Badly set up remote networks pointed companies in the direction of the 43%, rather than the 94%, and the pandemic dramatically increased the influx to the security of cloud-based platforms. While there are many reasons why businesses went under last year, cybersecurity (or lack thereof) should never be one of them.

Are remote workers productive?

While the circumstance in the IT services field are specific to the industry, companies of every type saw the pros and cons of a remote workforce. The initial concern appeared to be that working from home with all its distractions would lower productivity. Of course, that depends on the specific employee: a goldbricker at the office will probably be lazy at home as well.

Surprisingly, based on a study by Great Place To Work, a remote workforce actually improved productivity overall - slightly at first, then dramatically, but then the numbers sloped back towards just a bit better productivity than pre-pandemic times. In May of 2019, average employees showed 74% productivity, but in May of 2020, after the percentage of remote workers had risen from 5% to 60%, productivity within the same studied population shot up to 87%.

The main offshoot of all this is that for many employees and employers working from home will become permanent. Lower costs and higher productivity are an apple cart that no smart CEO wants to upset.

Do workers want to go back to the office?

The majority of workers do not. According to Human Resource Executive (HRE), 65% of employees want to stay home full time, while another 33% desire a ‘hybrid’ arrangement – some days home, some days at the office. In fact, HRE’s basic conclusion is that companies that require employees to return full time need to be ready for mass resignations, as 58% of workers said they would absolutely seek new employment under those circumstances.

Speaking from the experience of a Managed IT Services provider, now that all the heavy lifting has been done and remote workers are reliably and securely connected to the office, with the ability for reasonably ‘live’ collaboration with coworkers through Zoom, and are at least as productive as they were before, why mess with that? Plus, it’s a new, massive de-construction of what your IT services people did just 15 months ago.

Personally, I am happy to never have to find a diplomatic way to tell a co-worker that they need a breath mint again.

How do you encourage employees to come back to the office?

As an employer, you had to get most workers out of the office and it was probably a nightmare for you and a mad scramble for your IT support and services people, but now you want them back in, but are encountering resistance, especially from workers whose jobs do not depend on being at the office. Last year showed all of us that remote employees DO work and they work hard, as a rule.

But what happens to the company culture of team building and collaboration? Do you re-examine the importance of those aspects? Walking through a half empty office is unsettling, with no hubbub and the buzz of busy worker bees. So what do you do to get them back in their cubicles? A few ideas:

1) Throw in some new perks and amenities – it may be stocking the break room with better snacks to
providing free lunches – even an espresso or cappuccino machine might do it.
2) Create new fun group activities for in-office workers
3) Create new opportunities for training and advancement
4) Offer more flexibility in terms of work/life balance and employee needs
5) If all else fails, offer them a raise

How do you transition back into the office?

Here’s a checklist that should help.
1) Get up and shower earlier to allow for the commute
2) If needed, make sure childcare is in place.
3) Redo your budget to allow for gas prices that are through the roof
4) Be prepared to dress up every day – no more slippers and sweats
5) Give it time – the first few days may seem strange, but you’ll be back in the niche in no time

The last word:

There is an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Even though last year business infrastructures and procedures weren’t broken, IT services teams all over the world were putting in ‘fixes’. So now may be the time to evaluate the procedures and practices currently in place and decide what’s working and what isn’t. We are all finally looking at what our ‘new normal’ is going to be. Some concessions can and should be made by both employers and employees, but the bottom line HAS to be: What best keeps the company moving forward?

A healthy, profitable business benefits both the bosses and the workers. This is the time to work together – whether in person or remotely.