As some political and business leaders share their dismay about low office attendance, Lyndon Docherty addresses some of the misinformed and outdated views of the anti-hybrid working contingent.
As we continue our progression towards a post-pandemic “normal”, a number of high-profile commentators have emerged to express their anti-hybrid working views.
While Jacob Rees-Mogg was leaving notes for civil servants suggesting they should return to their Whitehall offices, Boris Johnson stated workers were “more productive” when in the workplace with colleagues.
Lord Sugar, best known for sacking contestants on The Apprentice, said employees who have adapted to homeworking have become “complacent” and “will never work for me”. Now Elon Musk is allegedly emailing colleagues saying they need to come back to the office as “remote work is no longer acceptable”.
With such views doing the rounds, it’s no wonder that tensions are mounting between employees and employers in relation to what’s right for everyone involved. Like any work-life vs ‘best for the business’ issue, the ideal approach needs to differ from place to place. There are, however, some key considerations to take on board before determining the best course of action.
Through the early part of the Covid-19 pandemic many organisations had to quickly adapt work practices and raced to get the right technology, connectivity and security in place to enable remote working. Now that more UK workers have experienced benefits from home or hybrid working, it’s little wonder that not all are keen to return to a daily commute into the office – even before they consider petrol prices and rail strikes.
it’s no wonder that tensions are mounting between employees and employers in relation to what’s right for everyone
Research by Google showed UK workers prefer to work remotely compared with their European counterparts. Its mobility data showed that UK commutes were down 22% compared with pre-pandemic levels, while the figure was only 9% lower in Spain and France and down by just 7% in Germany.
A global survey by WFH Research earlier this year also showed UK workers, who had the highest number of paid working days from home in Europe, felt strongly that homeworking had increased their efficiency.
Further research commissioned by Velocity Smart Technology revealed that 47% of UK office workers – rising to 60% for those aged 25-34 – would be prepared to quit their current job and look for new opportunities if flexibility is not provided by their employer.
Reflecting the growing demand for workplace flexibility, PwC recently announced a number of new flexible work policies for its UK staff, triggering Lord Sugar’s anti-hybrid working tirade. Labelled “The Deal”, PwC employees can opt for earlier start and finish times, continue working from home as part of blended working, and leave early on Friday afternoons in the summer.
While this model may suit PwC, it certainly won’t work for all. It will ultimately come down to the structure of an organisation and its business requirements. We’re also learning that many new challenges, including feelings of loneliness and isolation when working alone for long periods, have emerged which can significantly impact mental health.
Then there’s the additional barriers to good communication when working on challenges and opportunities as a team. It’s hard to beat the impact of just “getting in a room together” and working through things in person. Technology can and will no doubt have a critical role to play in addressing much of this.
There are now a host of technical solutions which promise to further enable and enhance the effectiveness of remote working to facilitate its growing popularity. How then do we create the ideal virtual workspace, metaverse, or whatever buzzword you prefer that suits a specific company or organisation?
Regardless of the misinformed and outdated views of some political and business figures, remote working is here to stay
These Workspace-as-a-Service (WaaS) challenges are not new but they need to be addressed in a different way. Having spent nearly a decade building HiveMind as a “work from home first” business to one whose network will be about 4,000 consultants this year, we have had to apply these new learnings since our inception. During Covid, one thing we learned is that people missed feeling connected. Technology in itself does not address this need – the key is to create an environment where colleagues can approach one another within a virtual space and start a conversation that feels natural and simple.
In replicating this environment online, it’s important to avoid any extra technical features that would only likely complicate the experience. From a commercial perspective, we must look at a model that doesn’t require us to pay for the number of people who visit our virtual office. This could lead to a culture where access is limited to reduce costs which runs entirely against the principle of having a virtual space to visit in the first place.
Regardless of the misinformed and outdated views of some political and business figures on the matter, remote working is here to stay for many organisations. But it will take careful consideration to determine exactly how it can be implemented to best work for employers ensuring it helps them retain their people while benefiting their business.
Achieving the seamless virtual working environment users seek, in the short term, will likely come down to the involvement and experience of those who ordinarily manage work environments working in close collaboration with their technical colleagues.
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