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The Demand for Flexibility in the Workplace: Overcoming Challenges for Onsite Staffing

By Stephanie Anderson

To address the need for greater flexibility, employers should consider loosening paid time-off policies.

With the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic coronavirus eliciting a host of new behaviors personally and professionally, the need for more flexibility in employee policies and procedures has been a hot topic among companies across all industries.

Given the essential societal role the industry plays through providing housing, employers should consider the unprecedented nature of this crisis and why it necessitates greater workplace flexibility. Requiring an employee to exhaust all paid time off (PTO) at this time is likely not a best practice for resolving this concern, so how do employers meet their workforce more than halfway?

Employers must face the reality that employees with school-age children are going to be faced with tough decisions as the fall approaches. Other than potential ADA and Family Medical Leave Act considerations, this is unchartered territory. Employees certainly should be allowed to use PTO during these school closures, but employers should relax the rules relating to the notice of use of PTO and avoid enforcing the policy in a manner that results in the employee having to use all PTO because of a school closing or related challenges, like elder care.

But the issue remains: How can any company optimally operate with a portion of their staffing unable to work regular hours because of the pandemic?

For each company, the idea and execution of workplace flexibility may look different. This may be easier for corporate offices, as there are more shared job responsibilities and most, if not all, employees may have the option for remote work.

The more challenging part of flexibility greatly affects those employees working onsite, serving on the front lines. Each property has limited staff in place and with the need to be physically present to assist residents, there is difficulty in continuing to meet resident needs and expectations while working with this limited staff and the limited operating hours.

There are many ways to allow for flexibility for all employees, including onsite team members:

  • Job sharing and compressed workweeks are a start.
  • Shared staffing, or “floaters,” between multiple properties is encouraged.
  • Cross-training employees will ensure that when someone is out, there is always a minimum of one other person who can complete a specialized task in their absence.
  • Leveraging technology for virtual leasing, online payments and resident requestsshould be a primary area of focus.
  • Retrain residents to understand the difference in services that still provide value. Are you there because your residents demand your physical presence or because technology platforms are non-existent or minimally used?
    • This will especially be difficult for long-term residents who expect personnel to be onsite daily, such as maintenance staff walking residents through work orders remotely or providing resources such as resident handbooks and videos on how to complete simple maintenance in their homes.
  • Create solid relationships with companies you can contract for cleaning and other tasks in the event of absence.
  • Utilizing smart locks, allowing access to areas for residents and contractors.
  • Partnering with a local temp staffing agency to assist with extended absences.
  • Outside of standard operating hours, determine your core business hours. This is the time frame that your employees are most focused and readily available to assist your residents.
    • This shortened period of time can be communicated to residents and supplier partners to ensure someone is available to meet their needs.

Allowing increased flexibility for all employees will continue to be a significant challenge for companies. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) allows a parent to take leave to take care of child if they meet the qualifications. Trying to be flexible and allow work from home when possible will be key.

If companies do not help employees by making adjustments, they could lose great employees for reasons beyond their control. It makes most sense to take care of your people, make arrangements for accommodation and work together. For more information on flexible scheduling, please see NAA’s Best Practice Flexible Scheduling.