As someone who has experienced working in an office, working from home and hybrid working, I have no particular axe to grind about whether employees should return to the office or hold out for a more flexible working arrangement. Each way of working has its own advantages and disadvantages which have been detailed in many articles since the pandemic. Should employees accept that they need to commute to an office or similar place and work where they have physical face-to-face contact with colleagues and managers? Some well-known people, from finance, industry and politics, insist that they should, even claiming that remote and hybrid working has resulted in a loss in productivity. It is not clear whether they have evidence to support that claim but extensive research by Microsoft shows that in a study of 31,000 people in 31 countries it is the loss of social capital that is impacting relationships and potentially productivity. Employees who have sustained relationships with immediate team members and maintained networks outside of the immediate team have done best, both in terms of well-being and higher productivity. “Employees with thriving relationships beyond their immediate team members say they’re more satisfied with their employer (76% versus 57%), more fulfilled by work (79% versus 59%), and have a more positive outlook on workplace stress (40% versus 30%) than those with weak organizational networks.”
The Microsoft WorkLab report admits that it is not a trivial task to build social capital in a hybrid environment – “To make hybrid working work, leaders need to empower managers to be the culture keepers, rethink the role of the office, rebuild social capital for a digital-first workforce, and create new practices for sustainable flexible work. Technology plays a key role, but this moment calls for a new mindset.” Bosses who want to bring everyone back to the office because they don’t think it is worth that investment may be ignoring the groundswell in employee expectations. The WorkLab report finds that there is a conflict between the desires of leaders (over 50% want everyone back in the office) and employees (over 50% are considering a shift to hybrid work and significantly 58% of Gen Z). A different study, carried out by the London School of Economics and software company Freshworks, found that hybrid or flexible working has overtaken salary as the most important factor for millennials and Gen Z employees.
The Raconteur article points to other factors of importance to the younger generations in the workforce such as well-being and work-life balance. Kate Palmer, HR advice director at The Peninsula Group, suggests, “employers would do well to harness their passions and drives, and always look for ways to improve.” Since they are “ultimately the workforce of the future, their expectations around hours, pay, perks and benefits and office culture, notes Palmer, need to be taken seriously.” What is clear from the WorkLab report is that the Great Reshuffle is far from over so bosses who want to retain their most talented people should try to keep tabs on how they are feeling about their company. Leaders could start by requesting anonymous feedback from all of their workforce to assess the overall health of the company. We, in Tensense, describe this as organisational experience (OX) data, which, when analysed using our proprietary Organisational SensemakingTM product, can provide real-time information on how people are perceiving the company. You can find out more in this short video here.