By Mai-Tal Kennedy
Building Industry Partners
The past 16 months have highlighted how much of what we took as unwritten rules of business were actually just common habits as opposed to critical success enablers. Take where we work: Is being on site every day critical to improved business performance, or is it just something we had all been used to doing?
Different organizations are taking different approaches to determining whether flexible and/or remote working arrangements are right for them, as well as whether to make those arrangements permanent. At times, the decision-making process is driven by perceptions of “what employees want,” even though the company has failed to engage thoughtfully with its employees.
At Building Industry Partners, a private equity firm focused on the construction supply industry, we believe in the double bottom line: Great returns to investors paired with boosts to employees’ personal, career, and financial growth. As part of this effort, when we assess and review policies that impact employees—such as whether to make available remote and flexible work —we use what we call the Employee Value Proposition (EVP).
The EVP is made up of five core elements, correlating to five key employee mindsets that we believe help create great workplaces and great business results:
Financial Security. “I can save for my future.”
Advancement Opportunities. “I can move up in my company.”
Career Resilience. “I can adjust to meet industry changes.”
Employee Engagement. “I am committed to our company’s success.”
Employee Wellness. “I am enabled to flourish personally and professionally.”
We are not suggesting the EVP lens will provide a definitive answer to whether your company ought to enable remote or flexible working. But we do think it helps surface the questions that will help you define an informed and equitable way forward.
Taking each EVP element in turn, consider what fully remote or flexible working arrangements might mean for both individual team members, and for the workforce overall. Among the questions you should ask:
Will there be savings available to employees from reducing commutes?
In an effort to enable or support financial security, what steps, if any, ought to be taken to ensure parity of benefits across roles?
If remote work is enabled, how will your organization ensure equity of coaching opportunities and quality of management relationships to remote staff?
How will you ensure both actual and perceived fairness when considering remote-working candidates for promotion?
Similarly, how will you guard against bias in favor of on-site staff when considering career opportunities?
How might your organization design learning opportunities in the case of a blended workforce?
What approaches will you take to sharing industry changes and news with remote employees?
What are your employees telling you about what matters to them?
Have people in certain roles expressed a strong preference for remote or flexible working?
Have roles that are unable to be performed remotely (e.g., forklift operators) expressed any concerns or fears about a shift to remote or flexible working?
What steps, if any, might need to be taken to avoid burnout from remote work and/or Zoom fatigue?
How might enabling flexible or remote working better enable your employees to lead full lives, such as attending kids’ events or maintaining a workout routine?
What enablers might be needed to support employee wellness in remote or flexible environments? Computer screens, for instance?
We think any discussion about enabling flexible and remote work would benefit by asking your employees how to optimize the work environment. Lean into these discussions with your teams. You’re much more likely to achieve a good outcome for your company by engaging your employees than by reviewing studies that are from different geographies, different industries, and different employee populations that are unlikely to match your specific circumstances.
Mai-Tal Kennedy is a consultant at Building Industry Partners, the leading private equity firm focused on the U.S. building industry. She helps BIP’s portfolio companies and the industry at large create “people-first” cultures that reinforce the holistic well-being of employees and their families, while at the same time delivering better business performance and bottom-line financial results. firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Note: One of BIP's managing partners has invested in, and is a partner in, Webb Analytics.)