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Friday, 17 May 2024 14:20

The End of Working from Home

Some recent decisions made by high profile organisations has brought Working from Home back to the top of discussion topics again. One of the most notable announcements came from Manchester United Football Club who have reversed their work from home Fridays trial after the number of emails dropped by 20%, citing this as an indication that productivity had dropped.

Whether less company emails is a relevant, or indeed a practical metric by which to measure productivity is highly debatable. However it comes on the back of an number of publicly made decisions that might be an indication that organisations are less accepting of a homeworking culture than they were during and immediately following the Covid pandemic.

Other recent decisions include:

  • Boots, who announced that all 3,900 of their head office staff would be required to return to work five days per week.
  • JD Sports have insisted that their head office staff return to the office for at least four days per week.
  • Amazon, who have introduced a policy whereby those who choose to work from home will not be considered for promotion.

Assuming that these other businesses have been a little more discerning in their analysis than Man United, we can reasonably assume the primary reason behind the push to return to the office is a dip in productivity. However, it’s no secret that the UK economy has been struggling over the past 12 months and only just managed to return positive growth figures. So, are we to blame WFH for poor growth, or is the weak economic performance a result of other external factors, and actually, we would have been worse off if it was not for homeworking?

Businesses have no doubt observed that whilst technology has stepped up to facilitate communication and remote interaction, it cannot entirely replace the spontaneous and creative interactions that occur in person. The phrase, “water cooler conversations” has had more than it fair share of use over recent years, but its relevance cannot be denied. A casual discussion between individuals who may otherwise not meet or speak can often bring a new perspective to a problem, potentially leading to a solution.

We’re hearing rumours that the UK Government may also play a role in influencing a shift to encouraging workers back to the office. The transport sector as well as local hospitality and retail businesses, selling and serving food will be suffering from a lack of commuters. Some train operators are continuing with special offers to incentivise a return to rail usage. There is a clear incentive to encourage office attendance as a revitalised commuter workforce would stimulate economic activity in these areas, aiding the overall economic recovery.

It's fairly widely recognised that whilst some employees have thrived in a home environment, others have struggled with distractions, lack of proper workspace, and reduced direct collaboration and interaction. Whilst home working was forced upon us as a side-effect of Covid, many individuals were probably ill-prepared to continue with WFH arrangements for the longer term. Self-leadership is a crucial attribute for someone in an isolated work environment, but even now, it’s not a subject we’re asked to train employees in often enough.

Managing home workers is one of the subjects we’ve been covering in our latest round of breakfast meetings. A number of discussions amongst delegates around the tables in the room at our Worcester meeting revealed that opportunity to work from home, at least partially, was very high up on the agenda for new recruits and was a question asked by candidates at practically every interview.

Businesses then are not only faced with the challenge of encouraging or enforcing a return to the office, but must clearly include some option to work from home if they are to remain attractive to new talent.

A carefully considered approach is clearly required to bring employees back to the office. A blanket requirement to return could be met with resistance, especially where home working has become entrenched as a norm. As the summer holidays approach, some employees may even have already have factored in that they will be working from home to account for childcare. These employees may have already factored in the financial benefits of not travelling into their budgets, and so may be significantly out of pocket.

Some options and strategies to consider are:

  1. Flexible Transition: Gradual increases in office days can help ease employees back into the routine. Flexibility can mitigate resistance and allow employees to adjust.

  2. Incentives (Carrot): Offering perks such as subsidised travel, improved office facilities, or wellness programs can make the office more appealing.

  3. Policies and Enforcement (Stick): Clear policies on office attendance and consequences for non-compliance may be necessary, but should be balanced with empathy and understanding. Also, don’t overlook what may have become considered acceptable and the norm which may now require a period of consultation to change.

  4. Hybrid Models: Maintaining some level of remote work can address employees’ needs for flexibility while re-establishing a strong office presence.

For smaller businesses, navigating this transition requires thoughtful strategies to avoid potential discriminatory practices and ensure a smooth process. The return to the office is a complex issue with significant implications for productivity and the wider economy. Businesses must adopt a balanced approach, considering both the immediate benefits of increased productivity and the longer-term economic impacts. By doing so, they can foster a work environment that supports both business goals and employee well-being.

HR Champions can provide expert guidance, helping businesses develop tailored strategies that align with their unique circumstances and workforce needs. Get in touch on 01452 331331 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  

Read 994 times Last modified on Friday, 17 May 2024 15:05

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