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Working From Home Vs The Office – A Worker And Employer Perspective

This topic is something that has been the cause of much debate of late but in all honesty, has been going on for many a year. The difference has been that there has been no major catalyst to move us from the former way of working to some kind of hybrid situation that we find ourselves in presently.

Home vs office working

So, do people work as hard when there are at home as they would within the office? With the way technology has developed over the last few years, for many jobs, there is no reason for them to be in the workplace anymore, as they can just as easily be carried out remotely. But culturally, most roles have been in the office, Monday to Friday 9-5.

This has now all changed because the change has been forced upon employers. Much of the old scepticism still exists however but the big question is, is this justified or is there very little to worry about?

As ever with this type of debate, much of this depends upon the way a company is structured and can vary on an employee-to-employee basis. To enable this discussion, we will talk in general terms about typical employees and assume that they are all sufficiently motivated to get their jobs done.

The Employers Perspective

So where to start. Let’s first look at the employer’s perspective.

Having invested so much in a fantastic office, which when full, creates a real “buzz” it is easy to see why so many companies want to see employees back in the office. Much of current management best practice requires people to be present so that teams can be properly directed and managed and get a “visual” of the work that has been undertaken. This type of thinking cannot be undone overnight, it is over 2 years now since some companies allowed their staff to fully work remotely and yet there is often still an underlying fear that work is not completed as well or as thoroughly when is done from home rather than the office. There is an entire tier of mid-management with job roles primarily dependent upon watching the work of others.

People working from an office
Employers Concerns

Some of this fear is understandable. Depending on the set-up that your team has remotely, it may well not be set up as well as the main company office. Considering the time and effort that has likely gone into making that as a productive environment as possible, hesitance is understandable.

There is a potential issue around understanding the roles above and below each team member. In a more traditional office environment, a key benefit has always been that people get to see what their peers and also their seniors do. This helps share knowledge and skills deeper within teams, benefiting the company by maintaining the company culture and also the intellectual property that has developed over time, maintaining competitive advantage.

This knowledge and skill sharing is also crucial for individual employees for their personal development, job satisfaction, and career progression. If your team is no longer able to see what their manager does within their regular duties, it will take longer for them to fit into the role in the future.

Some of this can be covered by frequent conference calls to teach people what is needed but many will struggle to learn effectively in this manner, potentially creating a real problem.

This is starting to look a little bit one-sided so now let’s look at an employee’s perspective.

An Argument On The Side of an Employee

For many employees, having spent years having to put up with the daily commute for a role that does not need to be done centrally, many are over the moon with the newfound freedom that working remotely brings. 

The ability to have a laptop on the desk to carry out all the necessary work duties but also being at home to be able to partake in all the things that used to be missed whilst travelling is hugely popular with many employees. There is a huge cost benefit with many major commuting options costing £1000s per year, working from home makes a big difference to the wallet also.

An Issue Around Trust

There is also a feeling around professionalism. Why, as a dedicated employee of many years, who has always carried out exemplary work, should I not be trusted to do the same level of productivity working from home. Why should it be assumed that at every opportunity I will be hiding away watching Netflix when I have always worked extremely hard for my company and wish to see it prosper.

Man working from home

There is a big gap between these viewpoints but both these views have certain merits, the question is, where does that leave employers and the workforce moving forward when there is a clear conflict of views. Well maybe if we look towards highly innovative, aspirational companies to see what they are doing we might be able to get some answers.

Unfortunately, once again, there is a large mixture of opinions. Elon Musk famously tweeted to Tesla staff to either come back to the office or find a new place to work. Compare that to Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg has stated that people are free to work from anywhere that they choose. 

It is interesting to see that they should take such different paths when both a clear leader in their field. Many of the big banks in London are still happy for their teams to work remotely but if you look at other major cities outside of London, most people are once again back in the office.

Future Potential Variables

There are additional factors that need to be considered within this debate. Currently, we are in an employee-favoured labour market, so they very much hold the power when it comes to making these decisions. 

This could well change thought with a recession likely to be on its way, the balance of power is likely to flip back to the employer so will this change where work is done? 

It will certainly be a very different discussion once a company no longer has to be as afraid of its workforce being able to leave rapidly should it enforce a practice that is not as popular.

What Do Studies Show Us About Productivity?

What about the world of Academia, will they provide us with some needed insight? Similar to the rest of us, Academic studies are very much divided on the answer for this, with some studies showing minimal changes to employee productivity and others demonstrating that a company can be severely impacted in both the short and longer term.

So, what should you do as a company?

The answer to this is very dependent on the nature of your business. If you have had teams that have always been very separate with little to no crossover, it should be possible to create a good system around remote working with occasional team meetings. 

The answer is somewhat different however if your business is dependent on the cross-pollination of ideas and concepts amongst different teams. In this scenario it is likely to have a hugely detrimental effect on your business in the long term because no matter hard you try; it is very difficult to replicate this virtually for any extended time.

Long-term detrimental effects may well vary by organisation. Whereas from conversations we are having with our customers their key business decision makers are anticipating, and trying to prevent, negative impacts on staff retention, business culture, company knowledge, and ultimately competitive advantage and growth potential.

Whichever way you do decide to approach this challenge, it is worth taking your team on the journey with you. Retaining company culture and close team bonds is worth working hard to achieve and is ultimately going to be something that has the biggest effect on your overall productivity.

McKinsey recently published a report which very much supports this approach. Titled “Returning to the office can be a choice, not a challenge” it focused on the relationship and decision-making process about where and how to work.

“The downside of a hybrid work model is determining where, when, and why to co-locate with colleagues or clients, and even where to sit upon arrival. This uncertainty can cause decision fatigue, prompting employees to fall back on familiar patterns to avoid the hassle. Many employers try to avoid this complexity by mandating office presence, but there’s a better way.”

This highlights similar issues discussed earlier but the report does put forward the solution.

A thoughtful, transparent, and data-driven approach to designing workplace and workday options simplifies employees’ choices, making it easier to spend the right moments together.

This includes “nudging”—the practice of helping people make the best choice by designing the options in a way that influences, but doesn’t restrict, the outcome. Small design changes, called “choice architecture,” have a big role to play in enabling informed decisions. For example, calendar and/or resource booking data can be used to notify employees when their colleagues are statistically likely to be in the office. The magnetic presence of collaborators and friends could inspire someone to make the commute.”

So, there is light at the end of the tunnel. By carefully developing a culture and workspace that promotes sensible decision making it is possible to get the best of both worlds, one where employees feel empowered to work how they feel works best and enabling a company to keep its culture and organisation alive.

Find out how Envelo can help you deliver a more desirable workplace and book a consultation with a member of our team.

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