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As we move into stage 2 of the inoculation programme, we prepare a return to some form of normality. Throughout Covid-19, companies had to adapt quickly to implement remote-working policies. As government restrictions ease, employers now face a complicated decision – whether they let workers stay at home, return to the office, or adopt a hybrid working model. With news of the “Big Four” accountancy rivals switching to hybrid models, including EY, the latest to announce the changes which will affect 17,000 staff, does finding a solution in between office-based and remote working look to be the answer?
Working from home is far from a new invention, yet it took a global pandemic to drive societal changes and digital transformation across industries. Organisations relied on technology including collaboration and video conferencing platforms to engage with their colleagues and clients. Companies that had never offered to work from home previously experienced the benefits of flexible working. With many benefits for employees and employers alike, supporters cite evidence that working from home can result in increased productivity. Alongside, promoting better work-life balance, a wider workforce talent pool for hiring, greater employee inclusivity and retention and reduction in overheads and expenses.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve shown that we can adjust to new technology and work effectively from home. As a result of this, 60% of candidates we spoke to said they would be willing to accept a fully remote position. With such a smooth transition from office working to working from home, it's unsurprising that companies are electing to make the change permanently including big tech companies such as Twitter who announced to employees that they could work from home indefinitely and believe “The future of work is offering employees more optionality.”
Of course, not everybody is comfortable with the prospect of working from home permanently. Some employers, particularly within the finance industry, fear the impact remote working has on trust, company culture and how employees collaborate. At a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum, Jes Staley, Chief Executive of Barclays voiced this concern and described remote working as a short-term measure that is not sustainable. There is also a worry that young people will not have the same career progression opportunities as those before them with the lack of face-time and networking opportunities, which could ultimately lead to long-term difficulties to fill mid to senior-level roles.
To prepare for a return to the workplace, offices are required to adhere to social distancing rules and increase cleaning regimes to mitigate the risk of infection. Whilst new technologies have allowed teams to continue to collaborate, there is no denying the value of face-to-face interactions within a physical office setting. Benefits include idea sharing, socialisation, and the ability to separate work and home life, all of which have a knock-on effect on our mental wellbeing.
The pandemic has prompted us all to question where we want to work moving forward and to reconsider the importance of a traditional 9-5, but could hybrid working be the solution? A mix of office-based and remote working allows for certain days for in-office meetings and collaboration and remote days for work involving individual focus. There’s no set or an ideal number of days that employees must be in an office, it could be anything from one day per week to three or four days, or even a monthly schedule with set days.
Reducing the time spent in the office or rotating teams to reduce the number of people in one space at any one time, reduces the risks but also offers structure and flexibility to employees. Employees have access to the aspects that make remote work desirable but none of the challenges that lead to reduced communication or loneliness. Whilst it's easy to identify the benefits of hybrid work, it is also important to note that it requires good people management, ongoing access to career development and a focus on employee wellbeing. Alongside the “Big Four” accountancy firms, successful adopters of hybrid working include tech companies Facebook and Aviva who have taken notice of their team circumstances and worker preferences.
At Search Consultancy, we have integrated a hybrid approach since returning to the office. It allows us to rotate divisions to adhere to social distancing and benefits both our employees and the business. Jessica Matthewman, Head of Employer Brand & Engagement says: “It’s no surprise that remote working is hugely popular and has many benefits. But we’ve also found that many of our team members prefer the separation of work and home life and feel more productive in the office, plus many enjoy the social element of seeing colleagues. A hybrid model allows everyone to have the best of both worlds.”
So, has office life changed permanently? In recent research conducted by Search Consultancy, 93% of candidates voted flexible working as an important employee benefit and an attractive offering when looking for a new role. Whether you’re considering a hybrid workplace or fully remote, the decision should not be taken lightly. The truth is that we are all still learning what works for our organisation and our workers, changes should be approached thoughtfully and methodically with regular review.