When the pandemic first hit, corporate Australia embarked on one of the biggest workplace experiments in recent times, with more than four million workers shifting from office working to working remotely from home overnight. Luckily, we had the technology to fully support this and businesses survived and could keep moving forward.
More than two years later, corporate Australia is eager to ‘return to normal’ or redefine normal, depending on their experiences and success of remote working.
What’s interesting is that there does not appear to be a united preference for one or the other. The businesses I work with are at various points along a continuum. Many are realising the benefits of having a remote workforce outweigh the drawbacks, there’s no rent to pay on office space and employees are happier as they don’t have to commute. These businesses are in the “let’s explore how we can make working from home even better and support our people to work from home” camp.
Many businesses are at the opposite extreme of the continuum and are keen to get employees back to the office as much as possible, motivated by the notion; “we need to get people back into the office more often than they are WFH”.
A lot of businesses see the benefits of both arrangements and are in the hybrid camp; “what hybrid version of WFH (Working from Home) and In The Office (ITO) will work best for us?”. They are keen to benefit from both and see a set up where employees can WFH some of the time and come into the office some of the time as the perfect solution.
Whichever camp business leaders sit in, creating a new normal is far from straightforward and needs careful planning and management and structures put in place and then communicated to staff.
Currently, businesses are also employing a range of different tactics that sit on the continuum between “mandated” through “strongly encouraged” through to “incentives and selling”. Businesses advertising new roles within their business on such platforms as Linked In have to pick a which category the role falls into WFH, Hybrid, or on-site; and candidates can search for a role that best suits them based on these filters. Business leaders need to strike a balance between what’s best for their business and what their people want.
Mandating everyone to return to the office full time may go down like a lead balloon with employees who have greatly enjoyed the benefits of working remotely for so long.
Many employees have benefited from greater flexibility that WFH has allowed; eradicating commutes, being closer to family, and minimising the mental strain of coming into the office each day. Others enjoy being back in the office, finding it easier to get their work done, they can talk directly to colleagues again and have a better sense of belonging than the isolation of working from home. Just as businesses sit on the continuum, employees also do, many keen to go back to full time office work and many (in fact most) unwilling to return to full time office-based work.
PCW recently conducted a survey that found that amongst 8,000 employees that found that 75% said they would prefer to perform administrative work remotely, and 67% said they would prefer to carry out individual tasks at home. On the other hand, 66% of respondents would prefer to connect with people as part of work at a physical workplace. This would assume that most employees would be open to a hybrid work arrangement. Perhaps this is the middle ground; with a hybrid workforce, employers could effectively meet employees halfway.
One of the business leaders I work with observed that around 60% of the work being performed is dealing with issues, fixing things and responding to jobs. Whereas, 40% of the work is about exploring opportunities, finding synergies between teams, resolving cross-departmental points of friction, finding out how they can add value to the client. The challenge for them is that WFH gets 60% of the work done but they run the risk of not doing the other 40% full justice without having all hands-on-deck together in the office. The fear, WFH stifles the opportunities for the organisation to grow, resulting in much less development for the team, lower engagement scores and therefore a slow decline in performance.
Much of the effort to make remote teams work has, to date, been carried by the leaders and managers. There is a growing recognition by some clients that this is not the whole answer and is unsustainable.
There is a growing need for employees to take responsibility to ensure remote working is effective. There is a gap to fill, whereby employees need to display and prove their capacity to WFH effectively into the future. They need to more regularly reach out to their managers, other team members and people in different parts of the organisation. They need to proactively look for opportunities for growth, development and experimentation, not just to complete the work at hand. Employees need to show their leaders that the other 40%, that would have happened organically in an office, is not missed or overlooked.
Let’s explore this further next time. In the meantime I’d love to hear what your business is doing? Where do you fall on the WFH, ITO continuum? If your leadership team could do with my help get in touch today, I’d love to hear from you.