Well, it’s that time of year again – the time when the season to be jolly fades away to make room for cold and flu season. Certainly not a trade-off to look forward to.
Whether you are an employee or employer, cold and flu season is something that most people dread: if you run a small business or manage a team, you will be faced with the prospect of scrambling for some kind of plan B to deal with the gaps left by sick and absent team members. If you are an employee, you’ll shudder each time you hear one of your colleagues sneezing, knowing that the germs will be spreading around the office and you might be their next victim.
There are a few things an organization can do, but one in particular will make a significant difference: allowing employees to work from home.
Sick employees are afraid of missing work
Between October and December 2019, there have been up to 3.7 million cases of flu just in the United States, according to a recent estimate. And if this number seems high enough, while the symptoms are milder the common cold is… well, much more common.
That’s a lot of empty seats in American offices, and many more people coming to work despite feeling unwell, as a survey found that 38% of employees are willing to go to work while contagious in order to preserve their sick leave or PTO allowance.
And even in cases where a tight sick leave policy isn't a concern, workers still feel compelled to show up to the office due to pressure, fear of losing their job or to be judged poorly due to their absences, a growing trend called presenteeism.
This means that if a worker cannot afford to take time off to recover from a seasonal illness or is left with no choice but going in to the office to perform their duties, this could easily result in a much larger group of employees calling in sick after being infected in the workplace.
If you needed an additional reason to consider implementing a remote working policy, minimizing the damage created by a flu or cold epidemic in the workplace might be it.
Preventing flu outbreaks with remote working
It’s been demonstrated that remote workers aren’t less productive than their office-bound counterparts, so telecommuting has become an increasingly common business practice. This rings particularly true for employees who are in the “grey area” of getting sick: the co-workers who are a bit under the weather but not too ill to work, and those who are coming down with a cough or a cold but don’t need to take a day off just yet.
Sparing them from the strain of the commute will give them the best chance to take it easy in a comfortable environment and prevent their symptoms from getting worse, while remaining productive in the process.
By encouraging them to work from home as soon as they are showing the first signs of a possible illness, you also minimize the risk of it spreading around the office and affecting other team members.
At the same time, employers should also encourage their team members to actually take time off when they are truly sick, and their symptoms are preventing them from being productive. Trust, after all, is key. And so is wellness!
The year-round benefits of remote working
Keeping the office healthy is only one of the many business benefits of allowing people to work remotely. Remote workers are experiencing demonstrable boosts of productivity and high morale – if you don’t believe us, take a look at this 2-year Stanford study.
Additionally, having a flexible remote working policy can give you a competitive advantage when it comes to recruitment. With more companies offering remote working opportunities, it is estimated that by 2025, 50% of the workforce will be (at least partly) remote.
This means that if you aren’t allowing your employees to telecommute, your candidate pool will not only be limited to local applicants, but you are also likely to lose current staff members and new talents to your competitors who do – and high employee turnover comes at a hefty price.
Last but not least, renting office space can be expensive, and a remote working policy allows employers and business owners to reduce the size of office premises needed to successfully operate the business.
How’s your office coping with flu season this year? Do you think that telecommuting policies could help workplaces staying healthy at the peak of winter? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.