4 months ago by Leanne Scaletta

Employers vs Employees: Who will win the WFH battle?

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​With ‘Freedom Day’ fast approaching, public discussions around the future of work have increased at a rate of knots. However, we’ve spotted a huge disparity between what employees are looking for and what leaders are planning. In this blog, we explore the potential reasons behind this gulf in opinion.

Why are leaders resisting?

Earlier this year, Apple famously informed its’ employees that they will be expected to return to the office. Despite offering two remote days per week, employees pushed back hard, and stated in an internal letter that “It feels like there is a disconnect between how the executive team thinks about remote / location-flexible work and the lived experiences of many of Apple’s employees.” (Source: The Verge).

It’s a sentiment that is echoed throughout big business. JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon said at a recent conference that “It doesn’t work for those who want to hustle. It doesn’t work for spontaneous idea generation. It doesn’t work for culture.”

He’s certainly not the only high-profile sceptic, with Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon saying“It’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.” Barclays chief executive, Jes Stanley has also described remote working as an emergency measure that cannot be sustained.

They’re backed by influential people too. Although the loudest voices are from within Financial Services, Netflix boss Reed Hastings also made headline with his belief that remote working has been a “pure negative”. UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson, has even stated that he does not believe remote working is a viable long-term option, urging everyone to return to the office despite reports the government will not dictate on this topic.

Challenges being thrown around in the media include keeping culture alive, development of junior employees and a lack of innovation and collaboration in remote teams. There are also many businesses set to lose out financially without the return of employees – city centres will be heavily impacted as people move to more rural locations, office space lies empty and the demand for convenience food and takeaway coffee dwindles.

But those aren’t the only reasons leaders are resisting hybrid and remote working practices.

We’re all at the mercy of our biases, and business leaders are no exception. More traditional leaders will consider their way of operating to be the ‘proper’ way to do things. They developed their careers in a fast-paced, corporate environment and see no other way to success. It’s what’s known as Status Quo bias – looking to maintain what has always been, rather than embrace innovation.

This usually goes hand in hand with confirmation bias, whereby we only process information which re-enforces our own beliefs and ignore anything to the contrary. The fact that unhappy voices shout loudest only perpetuates these biases. So, when prominent business folk are quoted as bringing staff back to retain those water cooler moments and reigniting their dwindling culture, senior teams are accepting this narrative and rejecting employee feedback.

In our opinion, leaders will need to put aside their gut feelings and develop new strategies based solely on research to create a bespoke solution for their businesses. It’s undeniable that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but getting it right is no easy task.

What do employees want?

In 2021, the number one reason people are registering with us is due to a lack of flexibility in their current role. In fact, of people surveyed, only 7.5% would be happy with a full time return to the office.

Our data shows that there’s a resounding desire for change. The working world as we knew it is gone, and in its place is an unprecedented level of flexibility. That’s what we found in our recent The Future Is Flex report, which you can download for free here.

But it’s not just our candidates who are saying this. Here are 4 key reasons that working from home should continue beyond the pandemic:

1.       WFH was better than expected.

Research by NBERfound 59.5% of respondents said their productivity was better than expected, with 21.9% saying it was ‘substantially better’, 20.6% reporting ‘hugely better’ levels of productivity, and only 13.9% stating their situation was worse when working from home.

2.       We invested in WFH equipment.

According to product research firm GFK, 53% of UK workers (who were working remotely at the start of December 2020) had purchased home office items such as office chairs, filing systems and printers.

3.       The WFH stigma has gone.

A study from the University of Birmingham and University of Kent found that the emergency shift to remote working has changed the overall perception of working from home. Whether it’s down to a greater focus on work tasks or a superior work-life balance, around two thirds of respondents said they work continue to work from home post-pandemic.

4.       We’re still concerned about our health.

In May 2021, People Management surveyed over 500 UK HR professionals about the return to work on ‘Freedom Day’. 53% said their employees were concerned about contracting COVID-19 in the workplace, despite reports of a successful vaccine roll out programme.

What happens if they get it wrong?

For businesses to survive, there needs to be a realignment of employer-employee expectations and, news flash, it’s the employees who have the power. Despite huge swathes of redundancies in 2020, we’re operating in a candidate poor marketplace. You can find out more about the candidate-rich myth here, but it’s never been trickier to find the right talent.

Whilst your business is demanding a return to the office, your competitor is embracing a hybrid model. Slowly you’ll start to lose staff to other companies, or even industries, as they search for the perfect work-life balance. A fascinating global study by McKinsey & Co found that more than 50% of employees want to work from home 3 or more days every week. Smart businesses are weaving flexibility into their EVP; utilising their benefits package as a talent attraction tool to entice people away from their current employer despite economic instabilities.

The people have spoken, and they want flexibility. That doesn’t mean fully remote though. Flexibility is being given a choice; employees want control over how they structure their lives so they can fulfil their duties without making personal sacrifices. Making data-backed decisions, empowered by feedback from employees, is the only way businesses can stay competitive when it comes to the future of work. In doing so, businesses can retain the best talent, attract the skillsets required for further growth and nurture a positive culture – essential components for continued success.

What happened to every company that didn’t adopt computers, implement software, embrace the internet? The same thing that’s about to happen to every company that doesn’t go remote first.” – Chris Herd, Firstbase

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