We have been following some interesting conversations, surveys, and news regarding employee sentiment about returning to the office vs continuing to work from home. In this piece, we explore some of the arguments and counter-arguments for employees returning to the workplace. There has been a clear shift from a mindset to fit as many people into a given space (minimize costs) to a strong awareness of employee wellbeing (maximize wellness and productivity) in the workplace.
Since the end of March many businesses who could continue operating while staff worked remotely (from home) quickly pivoted and ensured that their teams had the necessary computers/laptops and internet access, in an effort to maintain workflow. Initially, we all thought it would only be necessary for the short term, but many companies still only have a skeleton staff in the office, whilst the majority of office workers continue to work from home. We explore if working from home is a sustainable model to enable companies to thrive in the long run? How will a decentralised workforce affect company growth? And will the office lose its purpose, or will we find ourselves in a flexible work style somewhere between the two premises?
The benefits of the Office:
- The company has employees full attention whilst they are at work, and even disruptions are usually work-related (deliveries, emails, colleague banter).
- It is easier to build a company culture when a team is able to interact on a daily basis receiving the same direction, guidance or coaching from leaders.
- Teams get to know one another better with more face-to-face interactions, as well as through spontaneous engagement. This helps to build bonds and trust.
- A company could, arguably, let go of a portion of the permanent staff and rather outsource tasks to freelance workers or service providers.
- Employee performance and output are generally better monitored onsite.
- Senior staff and HR can offer better support and mentorship on a face-to-face basis.
According to Gensler’s recent survey, “70% of people want to work in the office for the majority of their week. However, they want to see changes from the pre-pandemic density levels, ensuring there is more space for physical distancing while addressing noise and cleaning protocols.” (U.S. Work From Home Survey 2020) Some of the reasons cited were that people miss meetings and connecting with colleagues face-to-face, Millennial and Gen Z workers are less productive, less satisfied at home, “younger workers are reporting a far more challenging experience working from home, finding the experience more stressful, and reporting getting less work done compared to their older peers.” They report more distractions and harder time maintaining a work/life balance.
The benefits of working from Home:
- Social distancing is most effective, limiting employee exposure to asymptomatic people.
- Employees will save time and money on transportation.
- Employers will save money on rented square meters.
- Fewer commuters have a smaller eco-footprint which is good for the environment (as fewer people drive or take busses to and from the office).
- Flexible hours allow employees the freedom to manage their workload and still meet work deadlines and deliverables.
- With the internet, and mobile technology it is possible to work from anywhere and has been a growing trend in the past few years.
- In the short term, employees appreciated the chance to look after their families. The debate is of course if all the home-based distractions are conducive to a productive work environment in the long run.
Some large tech companies have already adopted or at least incorporated a work-from-home policy. Google has offered employees who do not wish to return to the office yet a $1000 allowance to set-up their home office for comfort and productivity, with standing desks and ergonomic chairs. According to Forbes, “Facebook, followed with his own announcement that his employees may also work from home. Although, there was a dark underlying warning. People who move out of San Francisco to a lower-cost location may have to take a pay cut commensurate with the salary rate appropriate to their new home.”
Our Long term view
People are innately social creatures, we come together to work, play and create, believing that together we can create something bigger and better than just the sum of all the parts. It is through constant engagement with our peers, our community that we establish a culture, a set of norms that are socially acceptable, and enhance the quality of interactions, building bonds, and trust.
A company is built on the members of its team, it relies on the belief that the goal can be achieved because together we can achieve more than we could as individuals. That is how a company grows, through collaboration, innovation, and advancements. Companies also require team members to build relationships of trust, so that everyone can be relied on to pull their weight and support one another. It is my opinion that unless companies employ change management consultants to set up platforms and norms for employees and team leaders to connect virtually on a scheduled basis, it is going to be incredibly difficult in the long run to manage a decentralised team and consequently for companies to grow.
Whether office space will shrink will be determined by the tug-of-war between the recommendation of more square meters per employee (for physical distancing to be achieved) and the likelihood of fewer employees on-site at any given point in time. It will most likely be settled on a case to case basis, governed by company culture and policies.
The hunt for talent will become more fierce. Individuals with a good work ethic, strong social skills, and an ability to manage their own time and tasks in accordance with company needs, will be valued over individuals who require constant monitoring and assistance. Simply because managers will have less facetime and less opportunity to build trust and offer support to more needy employees.
Going forward, the HR department should have a more important role in the layout and planning stage of offices, focusing on employee wellbeing, and supporting a safe and productive environment.
What I predict is that flexible working hours will become the widespread norm, with minimum mandatory office time worked into the weekly schedule to check in with teams or management. This means that businesses will need to accommodate (make provision for) around 80% of their staff at any given point in time. This offers the best of both worlds, acknowledging the need for employees to govern their own schedule and balancing it with the company’s need to create synergy and achieve growth. Alongside this flexi-trend, office spaces will have to adapt and turn into a kind of service and community center that supports safe collaboration, and operational tasks, as well as a place that inspires creativity and provides spaces for high-quality meet-ups.
Whatever happens, know that at Entrawood we are monitoring trends and will adapt our offering and our recommendations to support our dealer partners and subsequently support companies and office workers throughout Southern Africa.
Please feel free to comment and let us know what your opinion is?
By Nushke Klopper, June 2020