Fundamental workplace issues need rethinking

The discussion about alternative ways of working is in the backlash phase, but it is really about the need to rethink all aspects of work in the 21st century.

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The tussle over alternative ways of working continues. There have been a lot of claims that the office is better for collaboration, for instance, and for office politics. The chief executive of property giant JLL Christian Ulbrich said employees are able to demand whatever they want because of the current state of the labour market and that this is poisoning workplace relations because conflicts are much easier to resolve in person.

There have been a lot of claims about lack of connectivity and loneliness for remote workers. Yet there is evidence to the contrary. An Accenture study last week shows people who work on-site, in comparison with those who work in hybrid or remote workplaces, feel the least connected of the three groups studied – 42% of on-site workers say they feel “not connected” versus 36% hybrid and 22% fully remote. Studies have shown that people at the office often feel lonely and as if they don’t belong. There have been articles such as this on how to address it.

The last two years have given us an opportunity to rethink how we do everything and why and who benefits. Yet many are not asking these questions, which is a huge missed opportunity which will have repercussions for years to come.

The problem is not necessarily where people work, but other issues are who or who isn’t included and who office politics work for and who it doesn’t. It is interesting that there is evidence that people from underrepresented groups have liked working from home more than others. That should be raising questions for managers. 

Too much of the coverage of the return to the office question is very superficial. At the moment we seem to be in a big backlash against working from home. Clearly working remotely is not for everyone – the thing is to give people greater choice in what works best for them. That is the key to greater productivity and retention rates. Yet all we hear is about the negatives. There are negatives for some people, of course, and a lot of people simply cannot work from home, but there are also many negatives about working in the office for a lot of people. These seem to feature less prominently in the rush to return.

The last two years have given us an opportunity to rethink how we do everything and why and who benefits. Yet many are not asking these questions, which is a huge missed opportunity which will have repercussions for years to come.



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