The divide on remote working is showing no signs of slowing down. Companies across the tech industry are now enforcing strict return to office policies.
72% of companies globally have implemented a return to office policy in 2023. Despite 78% of remote workers reporting an improved work-life balance, and increased productivity, business leaders aren’t convinced as productivity across all industries has declined in 2023.
The divide between employers and employees is heating up. JP Morgan Chase and Google have both made unsuccessful efforts to coax employees back to their desks and 37% of workers say they have or would consider looking for a new job if office-based work was enforced.
The question is: What is the compromise that will bring peace between the two camps? How can employers make hybrid work for them in the long term?
Benefits of working in an office (according to companies and leaders)
- Increased productivity. A Microsoft study found that 49% of managers of hybrid/remote works struggle to trust their employees to do their best work from home.
- Increased collaboration and teamwork. It’s suggested that simply being in the office and communicating, being present, and working in the direct vicinity of your colleagues can improve the desire to collaborate and assist colleagues with projects and problems.
- Career development. In a 2022 study, 41% said remote employees would be less likely to be considered for a promotion. The “out of sight, out of mind” theory. 38% were also less likely to receive a bonus compared to their on-site counterparts.
- Access to resources and stakeholders. Being in the same office as managers and stakeholders on a project can speed up the sign-off and feedback process, not allowing messages and emails to get lost by having face-to-face conversations.
Benefits of working remotely (according to workers)
- Less expenses. Not only can remote workers save on travel costs, commuting to the office. They can also benefit from less money spent on food, office attire and even childcare.
- Better work-life balance. Without commuting, remote workers have an average of 2 hours per day available for their own plans.
- Increased productivity. Ben Marks, founder of the #WorkAnywhere campaign, found “[a] comprehensive study of 16,000 workers by Stanford University, indicates that remote workers tend to be more productive than their in-office counterparts”.
- Inclusivity. The rise in remote working has enabled a more inclusive workforce. Those with low mobility or other disabilities, high anxiety and mental health struggles, single parents and others who hadn’t previously been able to commit or have their accommodations met by a traditional 9-5 role have been able to comfortably enter the workforce remotely.
It would be easy to say “hybrid” and leave it there. However, many workers are reluctant to give up the benefits of working remote, and the productivity and career development concerns of leaders are also valid. This isn’t a case of one camp is right and the other is wrong. There are downsides to being fully remote and being full-time in the office. It’s the job of business leaders to find a compromise that mitigates as many of the downsides and concerns of both parties as much as possible. A solution that drives productivity and business innovation, but also ensures employee retention, boosts customer relations and works inclusively for everyone.
Here are some key changes any company can make to adapt to a hybrid workforce that benefits the workers and the company:
1. Manager Training
The image of management has always been suited individuals heading up a board room meeting with their teams, having one-to-ones at the desk and in-person status reports on projects and productivity. To operate a successful hybrid team, these expectations have to adjust with the times. Many of the reasons cited against remote working or a hybrid workforce are a lack of accountability, team building and collaborations. Training managers in how to mitigate these problems and build a well-oiled, collaborative and close-knit hybrid team is essential. It will also help managers feel more confident in their remote workers or help them to overcome their dated needs for in-person control.
2. Remote Benefits in the Office
Instead of fighting the benefits of remote working, use the opportunity to listen to your staff and what they need to feel appreciated and enjoy their job and how it fits in with their life. The age of devoting your life to your career is fading, and instead companies need to offer benefits that help support their employees. Offering childcare vouchers or even an in-office creche to mitigate parental costs of returning to the office, which will also support more women in returning to work after maternity leave. Rail cards, covering a percentage of travel expenses or having a carshare policy to reduce commuting costs. Commuting time can also be a deterrent for workers, offering flexibility around core hours can help maintain the desired work-life balance. An example could be core in-office hours from 11am to 3pm for meetings, with workers choosing when they start and finish their 8 hours in that time.
3. Mental Health Support
In the name of inclusivity, many people who struggle with their mental health felt empowered to work in industries they’d previously ruled out thanks to the option of working remotely. If it is imperative to encourage workers to return to the office, even part time, supporting the transition and added stresses caused by being in a busy environment, longer hours and commuting is essential. Otherwise companies could risk isolating these workers and ultimately losing them and others. Offering counselling services and safe, quiet spaces in the office, such as solo working pods or meditation/quiet rooms. Allotting mental health days in the sick leave allowance and training HR functions to better answer questions and offer support to those seeking it are other ways that can boost presence in the office.
Are your offices and policies up to scratch to request that every employee (present and future) can comfortably work in the office? It could be worth bringing in an external inclusivity consultant to advise on ways to make your office welcoming and accessible to everyone. Another recommendation is inclusivity training for managers and teams to ensure that no member of staff is bringing their unconscious biases into the workplace.
“I think its only natural for companies to bring back onsite days, but given how successful remote working was throughout the pandemic, it seems logical to continue with a hybrid approach to working.
“Whether that be once a week, once a month or even once a quarter, I think it’s paramount for companies to bring the team together in a way that suits their company. Collaborative days, team workshops and even social events allows that work-life balance without remote employees being left behind.”
If you have any questions about remote working; whether consultation or open roles, get in touch with Liam.
Written by Liam Maguire, Technology Consultant