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Why it’s time to get real about remote work

Hybride werken vergt een delicate balans tussen de behoeften van werknemers en die van organisaties. Ontdek hoe deze balans kan worden gevonden en welke uitdagingen hierbij komen kijken in deze (Engelstalige) blog van SThree.

Hybrid working policies will only succeed if they’re based on compromise between the needs of employees and the needs of the organisation

An uncompromising approach to hybrid won’t work – whether it’s the employee or the employer who refuses to budge.

And both can be inflexible.

Employees who went home to work during the pandemic are now used to different lifestyles. Some bought dogs, many welcomed new childcare arrangements, others moved to new homes a long way from the workplace. Most don’t want to rush back to the office – and certainly not full time.

Employers, meanwhile, are encouraging staff to return. And some are running out of patience with the gentle approach: a growing number are mandating staff to work more of their hours – or all of them – in the workplace. Some have even started to take action against employees who refuse. One of the largest professional service firms in the world has started to monitor UK employees’ office attendance to see whether they’re violating its hybrid working policies.

These positions are mutually incompatible and don’t balance the valid needs of each side. Employees value their new-found work-life flexibility and want arrangements that acknowledge their current circumstances. Employers trust their staff, but they worry about who will train and welcome new employees, while ensuring teams collaborate, stay productive and company cultures are being maintained and developed.

Conflict can backfire

Confrontation seems inevitable. The Financial Conduct Authority is one example of an organisation that chose to defend its hybrid working policies in court, and it won a case against a senior manager who wanted to remain remote. The judge accepted its argument that elements of some jobs are difficult to replicate using technology.

While the law was on the side of the employer in this case, organisations that can’t find or communicate compromise will end up with conflict. When the dating app Grindr pushed for an office return, almost half of its employees handed in their notice.

For those employees hired on a fully remote contract during the pandemic, a mandate of three days in the office might feel unreasonable. But for employees hired on a contract stipulating five days in the office, then returning to three days in the office could feel like a reasonable compromise.

Where’s the common ground?

So how do we balance organisational and individual needs? The first step is for everyone to recognise those needs.

Individuals’ preferences are important. A study by the Hybrid Work Commission shows that 75% of hybrid workers feel their work-life balance has improved as a result. In STEM, where only 36% of professionals work exclusively from the office, our research shows that 58% say it’s important that their next role enables them to work remotely.

But employees must understand the organisation’s preferences too. CEOs’ biggest issues with remote working, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, relate to productivity, collaboration, culture and career development.

Take the much-heralded increase in productivity from working at home. Many studies and articles that mention this benefit have been largely based on employee feedback, which might not always be an accurate measure. It is more useful to use actual performance data, such as measurable inputs and outputs linked to a role, rather than self-report data from employees. Decisions on remote working could then be based on the impact on performance in a specific role, along with employee feedback, rather than focusing just on personal preferences.

And employers point out that in-person collaboration and interaction are vital for learning and career development – particularly for less-experienced employees. Cisco, for example, has warned that younger workers’ professional development will be damaged unless “they’re mentored by seasoned employees who’ve been in the workforce for a while”.

Finding common ground isn’t easy – and it’s not just difficult between employees and employers. Among employees, not everyone feels the same. For instance, it’s younger workers, who supposedly benefit most from in-person learning and career development opportunities, who are currently more likely to want remote working. Our research finds that 62% of people under the age of 50 see remote working as important, compared with only 45% of over 50s.

Mind your language

The nature of the conversation also needs to change. If it focuses on one party’s needs, instead of considering what balance might look like, it will only cement positions.

BDO’s framework for hybrid working, ‘workable’, seeks to understand whether roles can be done remotely: is work from home right for the job, is it right for the task, is it right for the business, and is it right for the customer? Immediately, the conversation shifts towards what the role requires and away from the emotion of what the individual or employer needs.

A less respectful tone is unlikely to win hearts and minds. Wolfgang Grupp, CEO of Trigema in Germany, has described people who can work at home as “unimportant”, potentially souring relations with existing staff and, crucially, turning off potential new hires. That’s a high-risk approach when competition for the best people is so fierce.

Staying positive and open to different views isn’t aways easy. Conversations can backslide quickly to the employee’s commuting costs or the employer’s fears for lost productivity. But debate, even if it’s difficult, is a crucial first step.

Mutual trust is in the middle ground

Research from the CIPD shows that trust in business leaders improved during the early stages of the pandemic as many organisations worked hard to support their staff. But since then it’s started to decline as the expectations of employers and employees move apart, and arguments about hybrid working policies are just one example of this increasing tension.

Employees miss the more personalised approach adopted by employers during the Covid crisis, and employers worry that individual needs could be overshadowing the interests of the collective. As so often, the solution lies somewhere in between.

Bron: SThree

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SThree is a global staffing organisation providing specialist services in the STEM industries (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Our five specialist brands operating in Belgium, Computer Futures, Progressive, Huxley, Real Staffing and JP Gray, place professionals across IT, Engineering, Oil & Gas, Banking, Pharma and Supply Chain. Bekijk alle berichten van SThree