Why discussions around remote or hybrid working need to be balanced.
The back to the office campaign seems to be hotting up, even though reports suggest that the official guidance on working from home if you can may be delayed beyond 21st June.
An article on the BBC this week featured the Centre for Cities think tank predicting that the five day office week will come back soon. Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at Centre for Cities, told Radio 5 Live that he is “quite hopeful that we will see people return five days a week”. Being hopeful about something and something being true are not really the same thing, but the article was nonetheless titled ‘Five day office week will become the norm’ in inverted commas. The Centre for Cities think tank is, of course, heavily invested in city centre development so has a bit of an interest in people going back to the office. It was heavily cited last September when a similar back to the office campaign was in full swing. The trouble was the BBC report didn’t really put the other side. I guess they’d call that bucking the norm. We’ve had so many articles about larger employers mainly promoting hybrid working after all. Maybe it’s got a bit boring, whereas a full-scale return to the office is somehow exciting and new.
A press release rolled in yesterday from deVere Group about a hiring ‘spree’ of younger workers. It was titled ‘Young workers “more than ready” to get to the office: deVere’. James Green, deVere Group’s divisional manager for Europe, is quoted as saying: “They [the young new hires] are more than ready to return to the office. They know and value that this is the best way to get to know colleagues and mentors, study for formal industry qualifications, undertake spontaneous meetings, and learn the culture of an organisation – all of which are critical for career development.”
There has been a lot of discussion during lockdown about younger workers and how you onboard those with little work experience remotely and how they learn the ropes without being physically around their colleagues. For young people, perhaps, the social experience of the office is more of a draw, although it depends very much on the person and their own particular circumstances. But deVere seems to be suggesting that younger people are somehow better because they may want to return to the office.
The problem is office workers are very divided on returning to the office or not or going hybrid. Some are desperate to get back to the office; some want less office. Some jobs clearly can’t be done from home, although, as we have seen, a lot can. Many employees like remote working.
Attitudes towards remote or hybrid working seem to depend, to some extent, on senior managers’ particular experiences or interpretation of lockdown. All sorts of ideas are bandied around about offices being the only place where collaboration takes place and about the importance of gossip and the like, although little reference is made to the sometimes damaging impact of office politics on certain individuals or groups. There’s a nostalgia for the office that is often not based on reality, at least on all people’s reality. Friends say their managers are talking about the need to get back to the office to collaborate better, which is great, but they say the managers have ignored all the collaboration that has been going on under their noses during the pandemic.
People clearly have their own personal preferences, but they should not confuse these with what everyone else wants, what works best generally and what they need to put in place to make it work. Many people have not thrived on five days in the office.
Covid has opened the eyes of many employers to their employees’ different circumstances and needs. Could they forget all of that in the next few months of yet more change? What matters is surely that employers continue to keep what they have seen during Covid front of mind and the only way to do that is to keep their ear to the ground and engage with their workforce. That and ensuring that they have some sort of strategy for implementing hybrid/remote working properly and not just expecting their workforce to make it up as they go along.