(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)
No kidding, 2021 will clearly be a strange year for small businesses and our employees. And while it might seem strange to say it, one thing you need to do is start thinking about 2022.
Many companies are either starting this year with their employees working from home or not working at all because of shutdowns. Other businesses that are having their employees come in to work are doing so cautiously. I was at a client last week and the atmosphere was somber: everyone wearing masks, staying away from each other, quietly working at their desks, hand sanitizers close by. Workplaces right now are not fun places to be.
That’ll change this year. Eventually.
Many economists are predicting a strong recovery in the second half of 2021, which means that hiring will significantly pick up. As that happens, small businesses will be back to competing with larger companies for talent. All of this is coming.
In anticipation of that happening, many of us are already re-visiting our benefit strategies. We need to be competitive. We need to bring on great people. We need to keep our best people. So what will be the best benefits to offer? According to studies like this one from the Hartford, they will include, of course, health and retirement plans, paid time off, and other new benefits rising such as help with student loans, mental health coverage and even pet insurance.
But the smartest business owners won’t be thinking about their 2021 benefits. They’ll be thinking of the benefits they’ll be providing to their employees in 2022. And beyond that. They’ll be thinking about the best way to keep their employees productive, happy and motivated for the long term. They’ll want to create the type of culture that will move their companies forward and leverage the very best of their people.
My prediction is that one employee benefit will rise to the very top of the list in 2022, and we can thank the pandemic for it. That essential benefit will be working from home.
Working from home will no longer be an alternative or a response to Covid. It will be a required benefit of any growing company. It is now no less important than health insurance, retirement plans and paid time off. The smartest small business owners will have learned from the pandemic that the cloud is reliable, the technology works and that their people can be trusted to do their jobs independently and without us breathing down their necks. Our employees, meanwhile, have embraced the ability to work out of their houses, spend more time with their families and enjoy more flexibility with their days.
So to compete with larger employers, small businesses owners will need to embrace working from home. Given what we experienced in 2020 and half of 2021 employees will expect this option in 2022. It will no longer be about health and safety. It will be about quality of life.
That’s not to say that our employees will want to work from home all the time. They won’t. Many have found that working from home 100% of the time can be stifling. People like to be with people. People need to be with people.
So if you’re an employer like me, you won’t be shutting down your offices. Instead, our work-from-home policies will require maybe two, three or even four days in-person where we can see an employee’s smiling face and radiant personality. That’s because collaboration, conversation and socialization is a critical part of every company’s culture. So there will be a balance. Both big brands and small businesses will mix their in-office requirements with work from home options and the best ones will change their performance reviews to focus on results achieved, regardless of when, where and how they were achieved.
Believe it or not, I still have a few clients that are resisting this. It amazes me. They’re going back to the old ways. They actually still feel that their people need to be there 100% of the time to their jobs. Of course, that will always apply to some workers – those on the production floor or warehouse. But for so many others these small business owners are dinosaurs. They’re living in the past. They don’t realize that working from home isn’t just a response to Covid. It’s a long-term benefit that will really take hold in 2022 and beyond.
Those small business owners that understand this new reality will be able to compete for the best talent in the years to come. These that don’t will simply fall behind, and fail.