Office workers around the country are still working remotely or in a hybrid setup as the pandemic enters its third year. In that time, companies from Twitter to PwC to Robinhood have said they'll let people continue working from home even after the risks of Covid-19 subside.
But allowing people to work from home isn't the same thing as making the remote-work experience a good one, says Brie Reynolds, career services manager at FlexJobs, a membership service that connects people to remote jobs. Plus, even if workers really want the flexibility to work remotely, a bad setup where people don't feel supported could lead them to default back to offices in a post-pandemic world.
"Applying traditional office operations to a remote environment doesn't work," Reynolds tells CNBC Make It.
With that in mind, if you're hoping to work from home or in a hybrid situation in the future, here are four signs that show a company is really committed to the future of remote work.
Reynolds says companies seriously invested in supporting its remote workforce will pay up — as in, they'll give workers money to set up a home office.
That includes one-time purchases of equipment like office furniture, a computer monitor, full-size keyboards and "things that make us comfortable in an office," Reynolds says. "This isn't temporary. People can't work off their laptop for 8 hours every day for the long-term."
Some employers may also give remote workers a monthly or quarterly stipend for recurring costs, like internet or phone bills.
A company that really wants remote work to succeed will have a robust suite of tech and communication tools so workers can seamlessly interact with others.
The company should be clear about what they use for email, instant messaging, video calls and voice calls. They should also include communication guidelines for each platform, Reynolds adds, like the acceptable working hours to send emails and messages (plus how to delay send to not cross those boundaries), or which meetings are preferable to have on video versus camera-optional.
Hybrid situations present their own challenges. While tech platforms like Google and Microsoft work to make them better, employers should make an effort to host more engaging, clear and inclusive video calls. If some workers are in office while others are remote, offices must be well-equipped with cameras, screens and conference rooms to make sure employees aren't excluded from gatherings.
Another good sign, Reynolds says, is if the company has dedicated employee resource groups for remote workers where they can discuss best practices, what's working and what needs improvement.
"When companies encourage conversation about how to work remotely, do it well and invite people into the mix to contribute ideas, that's a good sign," she says.
These groups can also provide social connection for remote workers to interact with those not on their immediate team.
Finally, look out for a company's official statement on remote work or news reports about an announcement. Reynolds a strong company statement will be "honest about how the office is evolving, and how they're integrating remote work plans."
For example, do they have plans for how they'll continue to commit to career development, DEI efforts and community building? Maybe they're investing in redesigning offices to support hybrid teams, or hiring senior leaders to spearhead remote work enhancements.
At some traditional employers, especially those in banking and finance, leaders have said flexible work limits creativity, productivity, networking and a sense of company culture. But the friction comes down to how leadership views flexible work, Reynolds says. "Some employers have seen the pandemic as a temporary remote situation and haven't worked to shift their mindset."
But the resources and technology to support remote workforces are out there and getting better. A handful of companies have always operated remotely, and a growing list of employers continue to announce long-term remote efforts beyond the pandemic. What really makes the difference, Reynolds says, is that leaders view these as long-term investments and are willing to start making them now.