Is a Return to the Office Necessary?
It’s a strange new world when it comes to the workplace. The pandemic has changed the face of all we were familiar with and has ultimately turned the tables, giving the employee the upper hand, so to speak, in certain capacities. They are demanding better working conditions, better leadership, more autonomy, and more diversity, among other things.
For the last year or more, some companies have slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) been mandating a return to the office. Many of those employees, however, don’t want to return and will go as far as quitting if they’re forced. Others prefer the face time and change of scenery the office allows.
Both working from home and working in a physical workplace each have their own unique pros and cons. For example, working from home allows flexibility for parents and caregivers. They can still perform their job functions remotely, attend meetings virtually, and still be a valuable part of their team. And, of course, there’s the enormous benefit of not having to face a commute each day.
On the flip side, there’s really no replacement for the traditional face-to-face interaction with your team members and leaders. When you’re together in the same place, you can bond in a way that working from home doesn’t always allow. Some employees find there is too much distraction at home for them to focus in the manner required to do their job and would, therefore, prefer to be in a familiar office environment to feel effective.
The central problem is that many of the benefits of working from home are good for the individual, whereas many of the benefits of working from the office are good for the organization and affect the individual more indirectly.
An article in Harvard Business Review, by Art Markman, Ph.D., states, “The central problem is that many of the benefits of working from home are good for the individual, whereas many of the benefits of working from the office are good for the organization and affect the individual more indirectly.”
What are these companies to do to make their employees happy? Let’s face it – the pandemic is not over and, with new variations popping up every few months, no one knows when – or if – it ever will be. As you create a plan to go forward, start by asking your employees what they want.
How About a Happy Medium?
Working from home or, actually, from anywhere other than in an office, is probably here to stay. Allowing your employees and prospective employees to have this option will mean a lot to those who want it. Promoting a hybrid workplace by being flexible with virtual and in-person work will give your employees the flexibility they desire.
One of the reasons why companies are reluctant to continue with a remote option is concern over the loss of camaraderie among employees. But there are ways to foster the connection without compromising flexibility.
By creating the time and space for relationship-building to happen and encouraging teams (especially remote and new employees) to prioritize networking and in-person connection, employees can make up lost ground.
“Organizations cannot see a return to the office as the only way to rebuild the social capital we’ve lost in the past two years. By creating the time and space for relationship-building to happen and encouraging teams (especially remote and new employees) to prioritize networking and in-person connection, employees can make up lost ground,” shares Jared Spataro in his recent article.
It’s All About Trust
Keeping track of some employees who work remotely, as well as some employees who work in the office or a mix thereof may sound like a monumental task for HR leaders or managers. But it doesn’t have to be.
Trusting your team to do the right thing and get the work done in an environment other than the office may be something you’re not used to doing but, in this new age of work flexibility, you have to. It is the key to keeping those hard-working, loyal employees.
In fact, research finds that productivity increased during the pandemic, showing that working from home doesn’t hinder people’s ability to deliver results when they work from home. The hours in which they get the job done don’t always matter anymore, as long as the results are there.
While your company may be planning to welcome back at least some of its employees to the office, keep in mind that “flexibility” is the new, in-demand benefit that your employees – both current and potential, will want from their employer.