“Can I still work from home?” A question many of us are asking. Now that the UK government has removed the advice to work from home in England, it will be interesting to see whether companies retract their flexible working and require staff to return to the office full-time. Despite the end of furlough, at the end of 2021 it was reported that unemployment fell to 4.2% which equates to 1.4 million people. With unemployment at such a high and employers needing staff, there are many factors to consider when looking at the future of the workplace for professional service workers that normally operate in an office environment.
Although there are safety precautions for working in the office, worker’s expectations have changed since 2019 when employers could insist staff need to work from the office. Over the past two years, many businesses, staff, and families have adapted to new ways of working and have made it possible to work from home, either full-time or as part of a hybrid model. And yet, it is still up for discussion how effective working from home is and what is the preferred choice for employees.
Research from Forester has found that 60% of organisations will move to a hybrid-model this year and highlights that the 30% of companies that do expect to enforce working from the office again can expect a 2.5% rate of employees resigning.
Pre-covid, perks of a job might have included the company culture and office benefits. Whether it be a social lunch, drinks after work, an on-site gym, or free parking, these perks are now obsolete if most employees are spending all or the majority of their time working from home. Therefore, companies now need to re-think how they can appeal to candidates and retain staff. If working from home or hybrid working is here to stay for the foreseeable future, companies need to think what their differentiator will be to create a positive workplace culture that benefits both the business and its workers.
In person vs screen time
Being in the office has its advantages of experiencing the company culture, access to mentors, and picking up things on the job that you just wouldn’t experience from home-working. We’re sure many people can recall influencers that helped and mentored them early in their career, and it would be hard to imagine not having these interactions at a crucial learning point in our careers.
It’s much easier to absorb the company culture and have access to support and personal development when you have access to your colleagues in the same working space. Building those valuable relationships, whether you’re new or 20 years into your career, working relationships allows people to connect on many levels. Whether it’s for social reasons or spontaneous business mind mapping sessions, a computer screen doesn’t quite beat in-person interactions.
However, new data by business finance lender, Sonovate, found that 53% of 18-34-year-olds claim flexible work culture is a key consideration when joining a company and 57% of young workers believe they don’t need to be in an office and could work effectively remotely. It has also been found that remote working can enhance productivity, which might be down to a number of factors such as less distractions and greater flexibility. At the end of the day, being productive is a key aspect for a rewarding job for both workers and the business alike.
With further data indicating that over a third of 18-34-year-olds have made a career change so they can work more flexibly, it is now apparent much of the workforce want a healthy work-life balance.
Thanks to the benefits of technology, many of us can operate well from home with greater efficiency and a more personalised experience. However, sometimes it’s hard to have a boundary between where work starts and ends. Unless you are very strict by working at your desk at your assigned working hours of the day, it might be hard to ignore home/life distractions. In contrast, working from an office allows for a clear place of work and a clear place of home. But at what cost? By having these defined spaces, it means we need to spend time and money commuting, money on appropriate workwear and time getting ready. While these aspects are removed when working from home which can make life easier, the quality of the workspace is also important. It’s not always possible for someone to have access to the niceties of a home office.
The challenge that has now become apparent for businesses is how they can adapt and stand out to new candidates and retain staff now that priorities and expectations have changed. Now that employees have adapted their home life to either hybrid working or working from home, this may have become a hygiene factor in their job search, candidates may now expect flexibility in this respect. A staggering 64% of workers have claimed they would only consider a new position/job if it offered flexible hours, and a BBC survey from 2021 found that 70% of 1,684 people polled don’t believe workers will return to the office full-time.
Company culture has been shown to have an important impact on return on investment (ROI) and sales, and so there now needs to be new factors that will appeal to workers, alongside flexibility. If office working isn’t going to become compulsory again, company culture needs redefining so that businesses can differentiate themselves when operating a hybrid model.
So, what factors would appeal to you? Would it be the idea of working for a company that has the same values and purpose as you? Would it be an employer that still values development and prioritises monitoring your performance to help keep you motivated? Or perhaps some virtual perks such as retail discounts or life insurance?
With the new ways of working appearing like they’re here to stay, we’ve put together areas that we predict will be of importance when retaining staff and job seeking:
- Enhanced focus on wellbeing. By having more time at home and less commuting, workers will have more freedom and flexibility which can positively impact a healthy work-life balance.
- Increase in income. Spending less money on commuting and workwear increases a person’s disposable income.
- Increased mobility. We’re no longer limited to where we can commute if a position is possible to do remotely. Job seekers can now look for a job nationwide if they want to work remotely which can benefit employers as this widens the pool of quality candidates.
- Digital perks. There are plenty of digital benefit and reward platforms out there which can function as the new office perks.
- A focus on productivity. Research has shown that a highly-engaged workforce performs 50% better. But how do we do that? We can plan effective meetings, minimise distractions, collaborate in the office, and set reachable targets. There are also plenty of guides with ideas of ways that have been found to improve motivation.
- Rethink team meetings. Don’t neglect the basics, team meetings are important and although you might be doing them already, you could take advantage of the opportunity to have a meeting at a different location. A local coffee shop or outdoor space in the nice weather might encourage better engagement and creativity in a team. Sometimes, there’s nothing quite like a change of scenery.
As there is no legal right for employees to work from home now that the government advice has changed, it will be interesting to see which direction companies choose to go in. It’s clear that there is no right or wrong answer, it’s going to come down to what works best for businesses and what works best for workers. Leaders should define what works effectively for their business and put provisions in place to attract employees aligned to their thinking. This will allow people to find a company with a work culture that suits them in this new age of work.