It would be hard not to notice the drawn-out debate on working from home versus returning to the office or some hybrid mix of the two. There are countless articles justifying each approach. For their part companies are taking action. Some like HSBC are embracing hybrid working and planning to move out of Canary Wharf and into the City, reducing their HQ office space by 40%.
An increasing number, from 56% of those surveyed by Unispace in 2021 to 72% in 2023, are mandating a return to the office, albeit with a willingness on the part of 78% of employers to trial a four-day working week. However, this willingness has its detractors such as when South Cambridgeshire council was asked to cease its four-day week to the apparent detriment of the council finances, council staff and the people they serve.
From the Unispace report it is evident that employers and employees are not on the same page about the reasons for the reluctance (51% of workers surveyed) to return to the office. Employers, unlike Gen Zs new to work, are more accustomed to working in offices and think external physical factors like time commuting, travelling to work and losing time at home are what employees don’t like.
On the other hand, employees place more emphasis on the contribution they make, feeling they are more productive at home and more effective when in their own private and remote space. That is not to say that they don’t see any value in going to the office when there is a good reason to do so, such as collaborating and socialising with colleagues, and receiving mentoring and training. To some extent, their goals match those of Professor Scott Galloway, who makes a very forceful argument for returning to the office, mainly for ‘on-the-job guidance and mentorship’.
While online training can be a powerful tool, what is more challenging to replicate are the natural ‘water-cooler moments’ in the office when junior employees can learn from more experienced peers through casual conversations.From the Unispace report
Companies that mandate a return to the office without considering the alternatives and consulting their employees may find it hits them ‘where it hurts most: their talent pools and thus, bottom lines.’ As concluded by the Unispace report, companies that make the effort to reach out to employees and find out ‘what is motivating them to return to the office will be the success factor behind workplace returns, increasing employee loyalty and attracting new talent.’
How Organisational Sensemaking™ can help
With the revelation that organisations continued to operate successfully when forced to adopt new ways of working during the pandemic, those organisations have an opportunity and a responsibility to implement working practices fit for the future that suit them and their employees. The Unispace report implies that more democratisation of the decision making is needed on what those practices should be and on how the office should be used. Organisations can find out how their culture and their current operation are viewed by asking their employees for their opinions in a non-invasive way. Using Organisational Sensemaking™, Tensense provides an anonymous, quick and ongoing way of assessing the mood of the people about how the organisation is doing. You can find out more in this short video here.