The return to the office dilemma...
For those out there of a sci-fi persuasion, this is the eternal struggle between good and evil throughout many Star Wars films. However, many employers are faced with a similar struggle - though maybe not quite of galaxy-defining proportions. Organisations must decide what the new normal looks like for them post-Covid, and whether this is working from home, hybrid working, or a complete return to the office.
In January 2022 the Government’s guidance to work from home ended. Following this, the Government launched it’s “Living with Covid” strategy. Many employers took steps to return to “normal”, given the ups and downs the previous years of Covid had brought. Now, almost two years later, many employers have an established system of remote working, flexible and hybrid working, and reduced commuting. However, as we move further away from the pandemic, many workers are now refusing or reluctant to head back to the office. As more and more candidates attend interviews and ask about homeworking and hybrid policies, should businesses be embracing or fighting this change?
As always there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. However, there are a number of things that employers should be thinking about to encourage a return to work, whilst also embracing the new norm:
- Managing employee anxieties - The pandemic took a toll on the mental health of many employees. The transition back to the office, and away from the creature comforts of home, can be daunting for some. Employers should seek to proactively address these issues by offering employee assistance programs, as well as an open and welcoming office space to return to.
- Reimagining office spaces and the workplace - Many employers are moving away from the traditional office space and instead creating redesigned spaces with open and collaborative areas with more ergonomic workstations.
It is also important to consider one of the most significant reasons why employees want to work remotely: time. Employees wishing to prioritise how and where they spend their time will want to avoid spending their time commuting to the office. Employers should therefore look to change employees’ perception of the workplace so they invest their time coming to the office. This, in turn, will help create shared and meaningful experiences at work with their teammates to foster learning and collaboration.
- Hybrid working arrangements and remote working policies - Recent surveys have shown that before the pandemic 1 in 70 jobs were remote. Now, this figure is more like 1 in 6. The pandemic promoted a seismic shift in working behaviour, accelerating the adoption of technology for remote working, including video conferencing and cybersecurity measures. The hybrid working model is therefore one that is likely to endure for all other than the office custodians. The hybrid approach acknowledges the value of flexibility and seeks to align the company’s interests with those of its employees.
Given the large number of hybrid jobs on the market, it is unlikely that many companies will be able to enforce the full return to the workplace, particularly if they have not done so already. Employers should therefore recognise the need for enhanced remote working policies, and consider virtual team-building activities to manage and integrate employees who are more home based than in-office.
Join the resistance or fight the resistance?
It is clear that with the advancements that have been made during and post-covid that hybrid working can succeed. The desire now to have a Teams call rather than in person meetings makes the office appear less important. However, what about the collaborative learning, mentoring of junior staff, and team bonding that comes from working in close proximity to our colleagues?
The answer is not to fight or join the resistance, but to create a fusion of the two. Businesses wishing to strike a balance between working from home and in-office should investigate how many days their teams need to be in the office. Once this is established, a working pattern of core hours/days where all employees are required in the office can be created. Significant emphasis can then be placed on these in-office days being vibrant, social and interactive for mentoring, learning and meetings. Employees can then work the remainder of the week from home should they wish. The focus is on implementing a model that works best for your employees, whilst also considering the needs of the business. This way there is no resistance and just happy employees and happy employers and the galaxy is a far happier place!