The pandemic disrupted everyone’s lives in almost every single way – it was thought that one silver lining to the pandemic was that it presented new modes of remote working and collaboration, and this new normal caused Zoom’s revenue to soar 169% in one year. The pandemic also demonstrated (out of necessity) that some jobs transferred well to being done at home. It introduced hopes that the painful, expensive daily commute could be reduced, working hours could be more flexible, and more time could be spent with loved ones. In particular, many Big Tech companies filled with ambitious and sought-after talent enjoyed remote working. According to the anonymous workplace survey app Blind, more than half (53%) of professionals working for technology firms in Silicon Valley prefer remote working to an office environment.
Generally, as the workforce returns to the office, people remained optimistic that employers would introduce a hybrid policy to accommodate those who favor remote working and those who favor the office environment.
Calls back to the office
However, confidence in a new hybrid work policy is faltering. Microsoft’s 2022 work trend index, which surveyed over 30,000 workers, concluded that “50% of leaders say their company already requires, or plans to require, full-time in-person work in the year ahead”. In the UK, civil servants are under pressure to fill office space by the Cabinet Office Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is responsible for government efficiency. This comes after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeatedly called on civil servants to set an example by returning to the office. Some key reasons that have been given for encouraging people back to the office include maintaining team bonds, worries about career progression, a lack of work-life separation, and increased productivity. In reality, these all vary from person to person, with some juggling these better at home, some in the office, and some using a hybrid approach.
There is little research to suggest that creating a blanket policy where all workers are required to attend the office daily boosts productivity. Instead, this call is an easy solution to increase an illusion of productivity and is an easy scapegoat for other issues around the workplace.
Case-by-case remote working
A remote working policy is multifaceted for any company so should be implemented on a case-by-case basis. Many different factors that need to be considered including, but not limited to, the level of the employee’s seniority; how long the employee has been at the company; how easy it is to socially distance in their office space; how well the specific job transfers to remote or hybrid working; child and pet care needs; and, ultimately, personal preference.
Productivity may also change depending on location and culture. In a Microsoft survey of the UK, only 43% of business leaders in the UK said productivity had been negatively impacted since the move to remote or hybrid working. This is much lower than the 84% recorded in China, 62% in India, 53% in Italy, and 52% in France.
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Ultimately it is important to remember that a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate. The working-from-home policy for any company or organization should be clear-cut and coherent for each employee and preferably built into the contract when the individual is hired. If future lockdowns do occur, companies will now have no excuse not to have a policy prepared.