There has been a lot of chatter about whether people will return to the office after lockdown finally eases. If we were all in the office pre-pandemic, why would we not go back post-pandemic? Actually, it may not be quite as cut and dried as it first seems, ‘Should the workforce return to the office?’ is a question a lot of managers are currently wrestling with. The secondary question that is often being asked is, will not having a remote working offering reduce your competitiveness as an employer?
In truth, there are some good reasons for not seeing the 9 to 5 office workplace as the best option, and there is a real discussion to be had around why it makes sense to continue working from home (WFH). Before we look at some of the factors that are motivating managers and business owners to consider the role of WFH could play going into the summer months and beyond, it is worth putting some context in the discussion.
Will working from home become normal?
Amongst other reasons, the rise of the so-called ‘gig economy’ and the increased desire for diverse and inclusive workplaces had already started this particular snowball rolling. Although it was a shock at the time, the pandemic may have only accelerated the move to more WFH in the working week. In the years preceding the lockdown, we were seeing remote working being added more and more frequently to contracts. At that point, home working was often seen as an employee benefit, but managers were also seeing many other advantages. So, this is not a new question, just one where the goalposts have moved to make it more relevant.
The bottom line is that regular WFH can be very beneficial, but it also comes with a few downsides that need to be thought about. For the employee, remote working offers:
– Time management opportunities. This means they can work around other commitments.
– Financial benefits. No travel, no lunches to buy, less spend on work clothes, and so on, all add up.
– Clearer working boundaries. Good remote management usually means setting goal-orientated workflows.
– A personal and distraction-free environment. Home workers can set up how they feel most comfortable and don’t suffer from the distraction of Gary from accounts stopping by for a chat about what was on TV yesterday evening.
– Potentially better work-life balance. WFH can allow more time with family, and even the dog gets more attention.
For the employer, though, there are also some quite heavyweight advantages.
– Reduced costs for the workplace. Many companies are downsizing their operation to smaller premises with reduced rents.
– Greater job satisfaction for employees. With good WFH support, you could well create a happier workforce and increase job satisfaction, and that creates higher productivity.
– Improved retention. A side effect of job satisfaction is increased loyalty.
– Reduced support costs. Utilities, cleaning, office supplies, and a hundred other reductions from furniture to coffee in the staff room can have a significant impact on the bottom line.
The financial implications alone potentially make WFH a sensible option all round. However (there is always a however), remote working has some downsides, and a couple of them are really big ones.
– Reduced work/social interactions. Work is more than just a place to sit. It is a place where we meet friends, socialise, grow as individuals and even meet life partners. Removing this, as we have seen during the lockdown, can lead to some pretty unpleasant consequences for employee well-being. If you are going remote, then it is important to put support in place to help with this.
– Less team communication. Zoom is not the same as a face-to-face meeting. This means that the team may communicate better in some ways, such as goal setting, but less well in others, such as collaboration.
– Reduced employee monitoring. This is not all about the work being produced. With good, task-focused management, remote working actually increases productivity, but it does potentially put a barrier between managers and their teams when it comes to the monitoring of morale and cooperation. If this isn’t dealt with, it can lead to festering grudges developing and unhappy employees leaving before intervention can be put in place to help them.
– Reduced mental and physical well-being for the employee. Sitting around at home all day may well make for a great lazy Sunday but isn’t good for us in the long run. When an employee is working from home, it is much more difficult to ensure they have a good work environment or that they are not feeling a decline in mental well-being due to isolation.
Much of the decision to keep WFH will inevitably be down to the individual managers and business owners knowing the preference of their existing teams.
Is remote working on the agenda for new employees, though?
In short, yes, very much so. We are not only seeing employers considering whether WFH is right for them; we are seeing candidates preferring contracts and roles that contain an element of remote working. Some are even not considering roles that do not offer it. That is a very important change. When you are looking for the right people on your team, it is important that you have the edge that will attract passive and active candidates. Having a remote working offer in your job description may be the thing that tips the scale when it comes to getting the right person.
So, will WFH continue?
The odds seem to be in favour of a yes. It has a lot to offer all round. That said, you do need the right management and support in place, but after a long period of lockdown, we probably all have a fair amount of knowledge now about how to do that. In the long-term, the most likely result will be a new way of working – A sort of hybrid between office and home with clearer, goal-centric, working practices when out of the office and a more social, interaction-based approach when working on site.
Why not call us to discuss your options and the employment implication of WFH for your next hire?