Is it back to the office or stay at home? I’ve had a number of discussions with line managers and HR on this topic. Some companies have already reorganised their office spaces to reduce the number of workstations; many are waiting to see what comes next; and others not only expect to return to normal before long – but are actively working towards that goal.
Demand for flexibility when it comes to physical presence at the office was building before COVID-19, so whether there are new variants or not, businesses should consider at least the following issues before making any big decisions.
Assess the operational need
What is the operational need for physical presence? At many engineering companies, for example, there is still a requirement for direct physical access to expensive tools. And even the more typical worker may require a laptop for the home office that costs more than a stationary computer at the workplace.
There could be cause for concern around ease of collaboration too. A few organisations – Microsoft, notably – have said remote work silos teams and that the lack of communication over informal networks and between divisions drove down the rate of innovation, at least in the early part of the pandemic.
The most successful businesses regard their corporate culture as a competitive advantage. They are watchful of how remote work could impact the development and nourishment of this vital strategic asset or impact the company values and individual behaviours. This is an especially important consideration when onboarding new people.
There are no easy answers, and businesses should avoid making decisions based on instinct or guesswork. While many people have welcomed returning to the office, a majority now expect more flexibility, and some very much prefer to work from home full time. Companies wanting to attract the best talent will act with pragmatism based on guidelines rather than strictly enforced rules.
They will factor into their assessment of the situation the nature of their business, regional and organisational cultural factors, the regulatory environment, geography, cost, and the preferences and needs of their current employees. Perhaps harder to do, they also have to consider future candidates’ expectations regarding the workplace strategy. These will vary widely, as will candidates’ bargaining power in line with their seniority, skills, and the wider job market.
Aim for greater flexibility
It does seem that companies will have to provide greater flexibility unless they have good reasons to force regular attendance at the office. This will most likely entail one or other hybrid model, allowing people to work remotely at least more of the time than before and redesigning the office environment for in-person meetings, social collaboration, culture building exercises, while also catering to the needs of specific kinds of workers requiring dedicated workspaces and equipment.
We also believe companies will increasingly provide co-working “hubs”, where remote workers gather more regularly and in smaller groups than they would at the central office. It’s a particularly attractive option in large metropolitan areas as it allows colleagues to meet each other closer to their homes.
We at AIMS International are Talent Management specialists, supporting companies with, among other things, assessing and coaching leaders for a new way of working, as well as Executive Search. Please contact a consultant near you to hear more about what we offer.
Mikko Taipale is an Executive Search and Talent Management consultant at AIMS International Sweden and a coach certified by the International Coaching Federation. Before joining AIMS International, he spent two decades in HR at telecommunications and automotive electronics businesses in Sweden, Finland, and Germany. Mikko has a Master of Law degree and has practised in the City Court of Helsinki.