With the recently announced COVID-19 recovery roadmap seeing plans for people to return to the office in just a matter of months, the inevitable discussions have begun around our return to the office and more importantly, what the future of the office may look like.
The last 12 months have seen a dramatic shift in the way that we work; in many cases, the jobs they said couldn’t be done from home, now have been. Not only have employees proven that these jobs can be done remotely, but have done so even in the face of prolonged uncertainty and additional challenges such as school closures and a lack of childcare.
This fundamental shift in working style has had a big impact on employee’s wants and needs and as a result, what employees have now begun to expect from existing and potential employers.
A recent survey by Steelcase found that after 12 months of working remotely, 97% of their respondents want to return to the office – although not as we previously know it. A huge 80% stated that they wanted to maintain the benefits of working from home, with only 3% opting to have ‘mostly’ remote working given the choice.
Whilst it’s clear that there is no one size fits all approach to the ideal working environment, weighing up the pros and cons both employees and employers have experienced during the last 12 months can go some way to helping find a best practice solution.
Reaping the benefits of agile working
Bar far one of the most regularly reported benefits of agile working, particularly in the city has been the removal of the daily commute. Whilst the ability to choose varied start and end times have previously provided some amount of agility, mostly core working hours still resulted in the daily grind of travelling to and from a physical place of work each morning and evening. This ‘lost time’ in terms of productivity often lead to additional and unnecessary stress for employees as well as an increased carbon footprint and has a significant environmental impact.
Working on an agile basis based at home has allowed many employees to not only remove the daily commute, but to manage their time around caring responsibilities or personal wellbeing, allowing more time for school and nursery drop offs, physical exercise or simply longer periods of rest between their working hours.
With over half of women changing jobs after maternity leave, and 41% not returning because of a lack of flexible working, many women taking lower paid / lower level jobs after maternity leave (usually due to challenges around childcare or working hours), being flexible about where and how your team members work has the potential to help employers tap into a previously ‘lost’ source of talent and help reduce the overall gender pay gap within their organisation.
From a recruitment perspective, the longer-term benefits of an agile working model are that you can appoint candidates based on their skills and suitability for the job as opposed to their physical location. Recruiting based on talent rather than a restricted geographical area could have a huge impact when recruiting to more niche competitive roles or those for which there is a national shortage.
It’s not all been plain sailing…
Some of the more challenging elements of working from home have been around isolation and a lack of social interaction and more importantly, the impact of this upon employee’s mental health.
For those who live alone in particular, the office is a social hub, the chance to build friendships and meet new people. Those water cooler moments, the idle chit chat over coffee machine, debates about the ending of that latest Netflix series – you should never underestimate the power of unplanned, unminuted, informal conversations.
Many businesses have reported slower decision making, poor communication and reduced productivity during lockdown, although with many working parents having had colleagues under the age of 18 sat in their ‘home office’ this is hardly surprising. It begs the question – is this a symptom of home working, or a symptom of home working in a pandemic / crisis situation?
Another challenge of home working in particular is around induction, onboarding and training of new staff. The value of side by side on the job training is huge, particularly for entry level roles or apprenticeships. In an office environment, it’s easy to ask for reassurance, quickly ask a question across the desk or even check your understanding. A virtual conversation with colleagues whom you may have never met can be challenging, cold and at times completely ineffective.
On a long-term basis there is the very real risk that staff may experience work drift –finding it challenging to separate work and family life. It’s all too easy for the two to merge together particularly when based in the same physical space. The less aligned people’s working hours become, is this work drift more inevitable as people seek to find synergy and what effect, ultimately will that have on mental health and wellbeing?
So what’s the solution?
For now, a hybrid model combining both working from home and a physical work space (whether that be smaller regional offices or a traditional office with more collaborative meeting space) appears to be the most effective solution and seeks to offer the best of both worlds. Recent research by the Financial Times found that the majority of companies they contacted anticipated introducing hybrid models of working in which staff split their time between the office and home.
It’s worth remembering however that for many businesses, this is a huge cultural shift away from the core office location. In order to be effective, good communication is fundamental and employees must feel supported both emotionally and with the necessary infrastructure.
Organisations should seek to provide a balanced approach, using the pull or appeal of the office for employees to reenergise and recharge, an opportunity for informal team get togethers, sounds boards, reassurance, cohesion, collaboration and innovation.
One thing is for sure, it’s a dangerous assumption to make that people will still want to travel for the right opportunity. With a huge perception shift over the last 12 months, considering how, where and when your employees can work should be a big part of your recruitment strategy going forward. Find the balance that works best for your business model and integrate it into the heart of company culture. No one said it would be easy, but if you get it right, the impact could help not only with attraction but the loyalty and retention of staff too.
If you want to know more about Signet, because we really pride ourselves on doing it better and with pure integrity, hang around and take a look at the site. Great place to start is “Why Signet”.