The real reason behind the return to the office
By Peter Boolkah, an award winning business coach with 25 years experience building and scaling up businesses for clients globally
The pandemic caused a massive shift in the working landscape with many of us working from home as we locked down. Most of us relished this new way of working and the advancement in technology meant that online meetings kept us in touch with our teams. It was so successful that post pandemic fifty of the biggest UK employers say they still have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time. However, this is not the case for everyone. Many companies have settled with a hybrid workforce currently but some want their staff back full time. Why is this?
The benefits for working from home are clear. It cuts costs. For the employee it cuts down the inflated commute prices of fares and petrol as well as affording them more time to spend with family or friends rather than sitting on a train or in a car. For the employer it means they need less space therefore their overheads are lowered. In unstable economic times such as these making savings for companies in this way is attractive. But where there are winners there will also be losers. Commercial property landlords in large cities want companies to get their workers back into the office. Without people to rent their vast office and retail spaces their investments depreciate. Similarly retailers need people to stop by their shops on the way to the office. With lower footfall and a cost of living crisis they need our towns and cities full of workers again. Undoubtedly there are also challenges surrounding working from home.
But the real reason behind companies wanting their employees back in the office is fear. There is a fear amongst some business leaders that if you cannot see your employees sitting at their desk between the hours of 9-5 it means they are not working. Productivity statistics do not support this theory. It is a psychological block towards a different way of working and is putting many companies on the back foot. 47% of workers surveyed by the ONS recorded improved well-being in working from home in some capacity, therefore workers are voting with their feet if they are forced back to the office full-time. Linkedin provided data from a survey which stated a third of people surveyed said they would leave their job if they were forced back into the office. The ramifications of this on employers and businesses is clear. A high turnover of staff costs businesses dearly. The recruitment process alone is expensive and time-consuming, onboarding is also costly. During this time productivity dips meaning that you stand to lose revenue. The big issue is that you are losing talent to your competitors. In any market this is damaging but even more so in the market, we find ourselves in now.
Presenteeism is problematic. Hybrid working is now the norm. For business owners and leaders, it is important to learn how to effectively manage a hybrid workforce. Just because your employee is sitting at their desk in the office does not necessarily mean they are more productive. With a remote or hybrid workforce, there needs to be clear operating procedures in place, available to all employees. This means that employees working from home are not isolated and understand what is required of them to carry out their roles remotely. A clear operating policy or procedure document should set out clear instructions for the job In hand to alleviate the need for so many preliminary questions needing to be asked and dealt with. It also creates a culture of confidence and knowledge, which is powerful. If employees feel a sense of creativity and recognition in what they are doing they will perform better. This ultimately allows the business to operate far more efficiently, to deliver better customer service, add more value and make more money.
Managing a remote or hybrid workforce ultimately boils down to communication. Prior to remote and hybrid working bosses didn’t actually have to communicate on any great level with their employees. They could simply look over their shoulders to check they were on target and not doing their Tesco online shop. Now we have to trust that our employees will get the job done and that actually they may also be doing their online weekly shop or taking 10 minutes to hang their washing out but as long as they are meeting their targets and producing quality results driven work, it doesn’t really matter how they manage their time. The Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data survey found that 65.5% of employees were able to produce much more per hour while working at home in lockdown and wanted to continue working at home whilst another survey by Curry’s Tech Talk found that 55% of people said that they concentrate better when working from home.
This new way of working ultimately needs a new way of managing. Remote working strategies and procedures are really the only way a business can operate successfully in this space and plenty are doing it successfully. What It requires is a loosening of the reins in some ways and a tightening in other areas.