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Employers are clutching at straws trying to convince workers to return to an office

For many people, the lockdown that was brought about by the pandemic offered a look at what working from home (WFH) would be like and that was a problem.

The problem was for employers though, as employees in many sectors came to the realisation that going into an office five days a week was a waste of time and resources.

There are good reasons to go into an office such as for cybersecurity and to have access to company resources. The problem is that listening to decision makers since restrictions began easing up, those aren’t the reasons they feel employees should return to the office full time.

This morning for instance, ASUS sent Hypertext an article that containing the following critique of hybrid work.

“The distributed nature of hybrid work means that employees are now attempting to work and collaborate across locations and time zones. This decreased face time with colleagues means fewer ‘watercooler’ moments that spark great ideas, the loss of camaraderie that makes working enjoyable, and the dearth of opportunities that keep workers loyal,” reads the article which nobody at ASUS takes ownership of.

While the article is presented as advice for employers, with employees who work in a hybrid or remote capacity, the tone is largely negative. In fact, in the opening statement of the article we’re told “Gartner reported that more than half of workers find that hybrid working has not changed, and even harmed, their productivity.”

This report, however, doesn’t say that.

The report asked employees whether their productivity had changed since 2020. 45 percent said it stayed the same and only 26 percent said they were less productive since 2020.

Sure, we can lump those two categories together, but that’s not how this works. Saying that productivity remaining the same after moving away from an office is a bad thing is silly, especially when the reason for productivity dipping isn’t down to the attitude of employees.

“Workers surveyed indicated that network connectivity became their main reason for decreased productivity. Moreover, 41% of workers who reported being more productive, admitted to often putting in longer hours in order to meet the increasing work demands,” reads the Gartner report which you can download here.

But reporting data in the way you want is at least trying. What we feel is a worrying trend is decision makers talking up concepts and ideas as if employees miss going into an office every day. Last week a clip from a podcast Steven Bartlett’s podcast The Diary of a CEO happened across our TikTok timeline.

The clip is part of a broader conversation with author Malcom Gladwell. We were particularly interested in what an author had to say about remote work. We’ve embedded the clip below, but you can find the full podcast here.

We’re frustrated at well Gladwell. Not for the same reasons you are, however, but with the inability of people in leadership positions to understand that the time of coming into an office five times a week is antiquated.

Putting aside the ability to spend more time with family, the money saved on fuel and the lower stress, working from home or hybrid work is good for business.

Research from The Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes appears to suggest this. Following a survey conducted by Cevat Giray Aksoy, Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, Steven J. Davis, Mathias Dolls and Pablo Zarate in March 2022 it was revealed that productivity and efficiency increased when working from home.

These increases were only seven percent and four percent respectively, but that is still an increase and it’s a global trend.

To have this data refuted with talks of “camaraderie” and questioning whether sitting in your pyjamas is what you want, is laughable.

To think that thought leaders and experts have to resort to feelings and bashing of attire really shows just how desperate employers are to get folks in an office and sadly, their aspirations are misguided.

In the same research from The Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes, it was revealed that 15 percent of employees would quit if employers announced a return to five days (or more) in an office. In Singapore, 40 percent of workers say they won’t accept a job offer if it doesn’t allow for working from home or flexible hours.

Perhaps most bizarre of all is the fact that companies which have embraced hybrid work and working from home, are seeing the benefits. Nedbank has reduced the number of offices it requires from 31 to 24 thanks to hybrid work arrangements. While we don’t know how employees have responded, from a business perspective this has saved Nedbank money.

While we understand not all work can be done from home, if a bank is trying to reach a point where 50 percent of staff is in an office and 50 percent either working from home or taking a hybrid approach, there is no excuse for other businesses.

To our mind, if employers want to get employees back in the office they need to justify it beyond trying to tug on heartstrings. However, what employers should really be doing is looking at how to benefit or leverage working from home for the business’ benefit.

As Nedbank illustrates, fewer in-office employees means you don’t need to rent an entire building out. Energy costs can be reduced and more. Yes, working from home requires investments in other areas but many cloud solutions are tailored for remote work.

Rather than clutching at esoteric straws that they never cared about to begin with, employers should embrace this new era of work. If they don’t, there’s an entire generation of workers coming up who aren’t pleased with the status quo and it would be silly to ignore what they are saying.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]

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