The lesson of Covid: no one size fits all.
There have been a lot of surveys in the last few years on the various implications of Covid-19. Many of them contradict each other, based on what the question was and what the organisation conducting the survey’s bias was.
There are also lots of conflicting things going on at the same time and different people are contending with a range of different circumstances. Some people have found working from home horribly isolating, depending on their home set-up or their personality, and even dangerous in the case of domestic violence. Others have found it liberating and that it has given them more time with the people they want to spend time with. Some have found they have piled on weight, not done as much exercise, that their mental and physical health has deteriorated, while others find it has given them more time to connect with people around them, to go out for runs or walks and to escape the stress of commuting. I know some young people who had mental health problems in the past who felt better as a result of Covid because they were not exposed to the relentless social pressure of school. You cannot assume anything.
A survey out in the last few days is, however, interesting. It shows that employers who offer remote or hybrid working have found it easier to recruit people. Employers with staff working 100% remotely were three times more likely to report having found it easier than usual to hire new employees over the past year, when compared to employers with staff working 100% onsite at their workplace. That’s quite a big difference, particularly when there are so many vacancies.
However, the survey also shows that retention is lower for those who are open to remote or hybrid working with those who have people 100% on site less likely to struggle. It could, of course, be too early to make any conclusions from any of this, given hybrid working for one is very much in its infancy as an overall workforce strategy. However, there are clearly difficulties to address in creating any sense of work culture and belonging when you don’t meet up with your colleagues and chat about everyday stuff. It is that social stuff that many people miss, although it can be the social stuff in the form of office politics that puts others off. You may, of course, be someone who doesn’t need the social side of work. You may have enough going on at home – as many parents do.
There are challenges with all forms of working, but where there are challenges there can be innovation. That doesn’t mean overloading workers with yet more channels of communication. I know people who worked from home before Covid and were not included in meetings. Out of sight out of mind. All attempts at visibility were down to them. Career progression was slow, if it happened at all. That surely has to change. We cannot enable different ways of working for different people’s needs and entrench an in-the-office hierarchy because some managers, perhaps understandably, prefer to have people around them.
It’s easy, however, to let things drift and for that to become the norm. Managers need to be aware of the dangers and to ensure remote employees are not left out of the loop. That means asking them what they think. I have worked remotely for a number of years and have developed strong bonds and loyalty towards colleagues, even though I have only seen them on a handful of occasions in the last few years – particularly not in the last two years. Much stronger bonds than I had at my last full-time office job, which I would describe as a mentally unsafe place to be by the end of my time there. I don’t miss it one bit. That sense of loyalty and shared endeavour is definitely a strong retention factor. Everyone’s experience of working is different. The important thing, surely, is that it is equally valued.