Unleash Your People Why is it essential to maintain flexibility?
- As offices open their doors again, it’s time to reassess how we work.
- How has remote working become the new normal and why are people keen to maintain the benefits it offers?
- Therefore, could introducing hybrid working could be vital in staff retention?
It always made sense that the modern workplace would usher in remote working. In fact, many experts have discussed this for years, noting how technologies such as fast, ubiquitous WiFi and video conferencing could lead to a rise in work being done outside of company walls.
It was not until 2020, however, that remote working had its true ‘stress-test’, with many companies scrambling to improvise amid a pandemic.
Now, we find ourselves in the midst of another change, as companies in major cities around the world, including London and New York, begin to bring their employees back into the office.
Local governments are keen to see their employees back in city centers, stimulating local economies with foot traffic to shops. Similarly, corporate leadership touts in-person working environments for fostering greater collaboration and productivity, as outlined in a recent report from Microsoft.
Yet, these factors driving the back-to-work policies are at odds with the desires of employees, whose perceptions of work and productivity have been altered over the past year and a half.
Many people have seen that their productivity can be maintained without the commute, and this has spurred a pushback to the fully in-person future of work, with advocacy instead for the availability of a permanent remote option.
How can HR leaders best respond to employee needs? And how have the technologies that we have now integrated into our daily working lives continue to be a part of a future where remote working is a permanent new normal?
These are topics we will need to examine closely as we contemplate the future of remote working, and how to move that future forward in a way that suits all parties — company stakeholders, government officials, employers and employees alike.
From remote revolution to fully in-person
In the past several weeks, office employees in both London and New York have been ordered to come back to the office — some for the first time after 18 months of remote working.
Similarly, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered all 80,000 New York City employees back into the office starting 13 September. New York City employees are expected to resume a pre-March 2020 work schedule, with remote working only available in limited circumstances.
Both of the world’s major cities are pushing this return to work as a part of the needed economic recovery within city centers.
However, the pandemic has forever changed the ways in which we work and despite the move back towards in-person work, many employees are no longer willing to return to work in the ways that we knew it and are demanding that remote work be maintained moving forward, alongside in-person work.
In fact, a recent survey shows that a third of employees say they would refuse a full-time job in the office. In the US, a survey found that 42% of employees say they would quit if their company didn’t offer remote working.
On top of this, remote working has become so popular that employers that continue to offer it are seeing a spike in applications.
This is a potential threat to loss of talent for those employers who fail to offer remote options, indicating that perhaps a top-down approach to requiring in-person working isn’t the right approach to work moving forward.
Meeting the demand for keeping work remote
Despite the broad move back to in-person work in all markets, some governments and private sector companies are keeping remote work as an option by enacting regulation around it.
In the UK, for example, it was recently announced that the government is looking at making flexible working a right that employees can request when beginning their employment.
If this goes ahead, it will mean that UK employees will be able to work flexibly — a portion of their time from the office and a portion of their time remotely — from the very beginning of an employment contract.
Similarly, the private sector in both Europe and the US is looking to implement similar measures.
As there is an increasing expectation for remote work within the labor market, companies such as Apple, Google and Spotify are offering their employees flexible (also known as ‘hybrid’) remote work options moving forward. These are popular with employees who have benefited greatly from the remote working revolution and don’t wish to go back to old ways of working.
Economically, taking on such a hybrid solution will allow the future of remote working to flourish, taking advantage of the technologies that allow it to do so (including Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and more), while also taking into account productivity gains from in-person work.
Finally, it will give local economies the confidence they need to have city centers running smoothly, with local consumer businesses seeing an uplift in sales.
It’s not all-or-nothing
While government dictates to return to offices may be daunting to those looking at returning to long commutes on public transit, mourning the time saved and productivity gained by logging on earlier from home, a post-COVID-19 workplace doesn’t have to mean choosing one over the other.
By implementing a hybrid between in-person and remote working, all players will compromise little, but all will win significantly.
Companies will save overhead from having employees in the office fewer days of the week, meaning that workspaces can be shared and commercial real estate footprint can become smaller, and thus less costly. Companies will also benefit from retaining talent, not losing it to competitors offering remote working.
Employees will win because they won’t lose the benefits gained through remote working.
And finally, technology wins because we continue to optimize solutions that enable remote working, including the HR technologies that underpin it all.
HR professionals must prepare for the hybrid working future
No one is more aware of employees’ reticence to return to work than HR professionals.
They have seen the pushback firsthand, just as they have seen the successful adoption of the technologies that have enabled remote working to flourish in the first place.
As HR professionals work closely with senior management to bring employees back into the office, they will need to keep in mind the importance of offering a hybrid working option. Failing to do so will inevitably result in a loss of talent to competitors who are willing to do so.
In addition to making preparations for hybrid working, HR professionals will benefit from onboarding a range of people management software tools that will help them enable employee productivity.
From tools that employees use to be productive in the course of their daily work, to tools that give management the confidence to rely on a hybrid workforce (such as time tracking, remote computer monitoring, or invoicing software), HR teams have their work cut out for them in devising best practices for a hybrid workforce.
It’s not just about productivity tools either — employee wellness will need to be an important consideration for HR within a hybrid workforce.
HR professionals will need to ensure that employees have a balanced workload and are coping well with remote integration and productivity in the workforce.
The lasting economic impacts of remote work
The rise of remote working has changed the workforce, and local economies, forever. The World Economic Forum agrees that hybrid working is the optimal and most likely scenario moving forward.
As we move towards this future, economies will have to re-think what the commute looks like and how offices are planned.
There will need to be a shift in how we look at work and how companies look after their employees, giving them not only the flexibility to work in a way that suits them, but also the tools to be able to do so productively and satisfactorily.