TL;DR – Should workers even have a choice on whether they will WFH or WFO? Do YOU?
Hands up if within the last 2 years, you have ever shuffled out of bed 5 minutes before your Zoom meeting to quickly brush your teeth and throw on some decent clothes for the camera. We won’t tell… The luxury of working from home during the pandemic has certainly allowed many employees to catch up on sleep, save the hassle of commuting daily to and fro the office, and allowed working parents to spend more time with their family.
When restrictions were finally lifted at the end of April to allow 100% of employees who work from home (WFH) being able to return to the office, it felt like it sounded the death knell for employees who wished for perpetual WFH arrangements.
A Robert Half study in the US highlights the stark dichotomy between a majority of senior managers who want their staff to work on site versus 50% of workers who would rather quit than return to working full time from the office. It was no surprise that the two categories of workers that were most likely to quit are working parents (55%) and millennial professionals (65%). Many parents enjoyed being able to take on more responsibilities at home and translating the time saved on commuting to spending time with their loved ones while millennial professionals who might not have many financial obligations have the luxury of choice in looking for an employer with an ideal working arrangement.
Pros of working from the office
Certainly, working from the office does have its benefits. Although the pandemic has allowed a multitude of collaborative working apps and platforms to surface, nothing quite beats being able to discuss, brainstorm and interact in person. Interacting face to face not only helps people pick up subtle nonverbal cues that might be lost on conference calls but there are a lot of benefits being able to socialise with your colleagues and foster camaraderie amongst team members.
In a remote environment, meetings have to be deliberately engineered. Working in the office naturally creates more opportunities for collaborations and learning. Just being around colleagues and listening to their conversations means that there are more chances for cross-sharing of information and institutional knowledge.
Working from the office also helps some employees better separate their work from personal lives – the different physical locations enabling better distinction between the two.
Hybrid work is here to stay
As both employers and employees balance the demands of work, hybrid working arrangements are likely the new way forward. Beyond stipulating rigid guidelines such as which days are designated work from home days and which are designated work from office days, it is more important that the office experience is curated and well-thought through. Cases where employees are in the office just because or even worse, to take Zoom calls which they could take from home should be avoided.
A much bigger play for employers would also be to encourage flexible working arrangements and to support employees to utilise these arrangements through infrastructure and empowerment. This could mean coming into the office for team meetings and some socialising before heading back to pick their child from childcare and then continuing work again thereafter. It requires employers to clearly spell out expectations and design jobs in such a way that outcomes are measurable and can be evaluated fairly. Employees, on the other hand, should take the onus upon themselves to be productive when the time calls for it and to not take such arrangements for granted. Together, the careful calibration of such efforts would help pave the way for a more sustained hybrid arrangement that would reap the benefits for both the employer and employee.
Hopefully the days of waking up 5 minutes just before a Zoom call aren’t over yet.