The UK government is fluctuating between telling people to work from home, and encouraging companies to send their staff back to the office but do they really want to return? Netflix Chairman, Reed Hastings, is quoted as calling working from home “a pure negative”; do other big brands share his beliefs? What about the small businesses out there; has the pandemic been a blessing or a curse?
To prepare for this article I have spent hours poring over the research to get some answers on how successful working from home has been for people and businesses in the UK so far. If I’m honest, the articles on the benefits of working from home are starting to get my hackles up, and it’s for one simple reason – the generalisations. It is wild to assume that if a cross-section of the population is interviewed they will give the same answers on:
- Have you enjoyed working from home?
- Would you like to continue working from home?
- How productive have you been?
Let’s take our own company as an example. We are a team of 13, made up of remote workers and core office staff; some of us are working parents, some of us live with our parents, and some of us live alone. We have blended families, single parents, and nuclear families in our group. Our ages range from early twenties to…well, let’s say 40+. Our job roles are split amongst creative, operational, strategic and coaches/trainers so our day-to-day working lives looked very different even before lockdown.
Just as no two employees have the same experience, no two companies will have approached the ‘working from home’ process in the same way. Many companies had been taking a proactive approach to flexible working long before the pandemic hit, while others were forced into it with no preparation for their teams on emotional or practical levels. At Connect Three we were lucky that none of us were new to working from home. Like many other fair work focused companies, we have had a long term strategy implementing flexible working. That means most of our team entered into this with previous experience of working at home, and established spaces at to work from. However, there are many teams and businesses who may have dipped their toe in the flexible-working-water before, or may have never considered it.
All things considered, how could people possibly write overarching statements on whether working from home has been a positive or negative experience for any team or agency? Before we run after naysayers like Reed Hastings with pitchforks, let’s look at what he said. Firstly, he was clear that his staff would not be returning to regular office hours until after a COVID-19 vaccination was available. Second, he said that: "Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.” While it’s a strong statement, it’s not necessarily wrong, is it? Being unable to get together in person could not be classed as a positive thing. The impact on company growth and individual well-being is obvious. Other big brand bosses, however, are more than happy to embrace the changing models of working and the benefits they bring.
With mounting financial pressures, the idea that companies do not need a city centre skyscraper office to attract the best staff is incredibly appealing. The pandemic has proven for many companies that a dispersed workforce is an effective method for finding and retaining diverse talent. Imagine a future where companies can still pay you ‘big city’ wages but move their headquarters to cities where their rent, and yours, will be much lower.
Other brands have plans for hybrid models of working. Facebook, for instance, has announced its intention to open small satellite offices where staff can ‘check in’ and meet face-to-face regularly while still working from home when they like. Coinbase CEO Brain Armstrong says; “… the vision is to have one floor of office space in 10 cities, rather than 10 floors of office space in one city.”
There is no doubt that the cat is out of the bag when it comes to remote working, and that the likelihood of everyone who worked 5 days a week in an office returning to that style of work any time soon is not high; but questions are rightly being raised about whether company culture and innovation is being impacted; about how ‘presenteeism’ will affect career progression for parents and junior staff; about how staff mental health is impacted by isolation from colleagues and face-to-face networking. As Mark Lund, President of McCann Worldgroup says: “We are missing the charge of physical meetings and collaboration with each other and clients greatly. The serendipity at the heart of the creative process is much harder to achieve via a screen.”
So where do we go from here? How do we create a model that works for all of our people, enabling them to be productive, while protecting their emotional well-being and securing our company’s future? Oh wait, were you are expecting an answer? Like I said, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for the ‘working from home’ question. I do know how you can find your company’s answer though – communication. Speak to your staff as individuals, make your decisions about the future based on evidence, not assumptions. Just because surveys and research say that most older people want to keep working from home, while most younger people want back to the comradery of an office; that does not mean it’s true for your staff. Check in with them and find out what they need. One thing is for sure, the working from home model must evolve from where it is now.
Those businesses who have yet to plan how a more flexible working arrangement could benefit their organisations for the better need to start now, and those businesses with established flexible working solutions need to review what has worked and what hasn’t during the recent system stress test.
“Even the most ambitious champions of remote working acknowledge that in-person interaction with colleagues is healthy for morale and company culture, and that it enables a greater degree of collaborative innovation not possible with Zoom or Teams, which tech leaders agree is an essential catalyst to growth.” Says Ernest Andrade, Founder of the Charleston Digital Corridor.
Nikki Slowey, Founder and Co-Director of Flexibility Works, says: “The demand for flexible working was already outstripping supply here in Scotland and in particular the demand for home working had certainly not been met by employers. Business leaders are now looking at how people in their organisation will work going forward and realising that home working needs to be part of the picture. This doesn’t mean everyone working from home all of the time. There is still a huge role for a physical space, which allows us to connect with colleagues, but we will see a more blended approach to where and when people work.
“And remember, what we’ve been experiencing is not even ‘normal’ home working, as it happened so suddenly for so many people, not to mention the fact many of us have children at home. Just think what can be achieved if we embed flexible working properly as businesses re-set post COVID19. There are, of course, many challenges for organisations and workers because of the pandemic. But there is an opportunity to make some things better.”
Get in touch to find out how Connect Three can support businesses like yours in engaging with your teams, or the behavioural support required during the challenges working from home gives employees and how we can support managers and leaders.