A topic I often get asked for my opinion on is working models; whether businesses should return to their pre-pandemic, office based working arrangements and give up on remote or hybrid working.
There has been much in the press about this lately with many large corporations including Amazon, Google, Citigroup and Lloyds applying pressure for people to return to the office full time. The Guardian reported in October, that two thirds of CEO’s predict a full return to office working by 2026. The arguments for returning to this centralised working model focus on increasing creativity and collaboration, facilitating training and promoting the corporate culture. When I am asked should my business return to office working, my response, as with many things in HR, is usually, ‘it depends…..’. It's important to carefully consider both the needs of your employees and the nature of your business. One size fits all is rarely a good strategy. Below are the factors ‘it depends’, on:
Survey your employees to understand their preferences. Some may prefer remote work for its flexibility, while others may miss the social interactions and collaborative atmosphere of the office and would actually prefer to be in the office full time. If recruiting and retention are difficult within your business in the current economic climate, flexibility is an attractive benefit. Removing it may result in your business losing valuable talent.
Nature of the Work
While being careful not to discriminate, consider the nature of your business and whether certain tasks or projects require in-person collaboration. Some roles may benefit from face-to-face interactions, while others can be effectively performed remotely.
Productivity and Performance
Evaluate the productivity and performance of your employees working remotely. If your team has been able to maintain or even improve performance and they express a preference to continue, why change. Particularly if your overheads are less as a result. Offering a hybrid or fully remote working model might be a viable long-term option for your business and removing it could do more harm than good.
Technology and Infrastructure
Assess whether your business has the necessary technology and infrastructure to support continued remote work effectively. This includes secure communication tools, project management software and IT support for remote employees.
Health and Safety
Consider the ongoing health and safety concerns of your employees both physically and mentally. If sickness absence, stress related health issues and presenteeism is an issue for your remote workers, a return to the office or offering a hybrid arrangement might be beneficial. Office working can be valuable for team support, training and relationship building. You know your employees best and prioritising their well-being is a key factor.
Whatever your working model, employers have a duty of care to their employees and ensuring mechanisms and channels are in place to assess risks, implement health and safety protocols, provide support and communicate with remote or office based staff is essential both legally and morally.
Costs and Savings
Evaluate the costs associated with maintaining an office space versus potential cost savings from remote work. Consider factors such as rent, utilities, and other overhead expenses.
Consider the impact on your company culture. If in-person interactions play a significant role in fostering a positive and collaborative culture, you may want to incorporate that into your decision.
Legislation and Compliance
Ensure that your decision aligns with legislation and regulations. Consider any legal implications and compliance requirements related to remote work or office attendance. Suddenly asking your employees to return to the office and removing flexibility could be legally risky if employees view the flexibility as implied within their terms and conditions.
Be clear about your business reasons for advocating a return to the office. With the imminent legislation changes on flexible working requests, mandating a return to the office could instigate a flurry of flexible working requests for your managers to consider on an individual basis.
Ultimately, the best model for your business may involve a combination of remote and in-person work that aligns with the needs of your operation and the preferences of your employees. Many businesses have adopted a hybrid model since the pandemic and stuck with it. This allows employees to split their time between remote work and office attendance. The approach, though sometimes tricky to manage day to day, combines the benefits of in-person collaboration with the flexibility of remote work.
Whatever choices you make, it's important to reassess the situation regularly and remain flexible in adapting to changing circumstances, the needs of the business and your employees.
Key Points to Remember
Whatever working model your Organisation decides to adopt always remember:
Communicate transparently with your employees about the decision-making process and any changes
Be consistent in applying changes fairly across your workforce
Make sure your policies, contracts, employment handbook and terms and conditions underpin your model
Address concerns and gather feedback to make informed decisions going forward.