Returning to the Workplace
29 September 2021

The concept of working flexibly has been something of a workplace Olympic gold standard by many. Now that we’re settling back into work the phrase “hybrid working”, combining working from home and going to the office, is widely touted as the way forward. While working from home and hybrid working may be flexible and productive for some businesses, it is not true of many others and it is not only unhelpful, but unrealistic to assume that they are.

At the start of the pandemic the Government directed people to work from home if they could. So we did. Quite often it was a bit clunky, but we just got on with it on because it was the least-worst option, and we knew that it wasn’t a permanent solution.

Working life may be returning to greater normality, but companies are reporting that where staff are needed back on site there is a noticeable reluctance to return to the workplace. Employers have been reporting a flood of flexible working requests, all arguing that because they were able to work from home during the pandemic they should continue to do so or to work between the two.

We must remember that just because staff can work from home, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for them or the business. Here are some examples of where working from home does not work as well as being together in the workplace.

  • The inability to communicate fluently with a colleague seated at the next desk makes customer service and processing work far more difficult and far more prone to error.
  • Productivity can be affected. For example, problems with technology may not get resolved as quickly as they would in the office and can make it difficult to work remotely.
  • Communication with colleagues or clients can easily be misconstrued.
  • We learn in all sorts of ways, including from our colleagues at work. Without face-to-face contact with more experienced colleagues, younger employees have not had the opportunity to gain experience.
  • Skills will also deteriorate over time unless they are exercised and developed
  • We have made video calls, Zooming and Teamsing (and very helpful they have been too) until we’re blue round the gills but we all know that they are no substitute for bonding and team building.
  • Work is also about personal human contact. If you work at home, building relationships and holding a social exchange becomes a challenge. Home working can be a lonely experience.

There’s also a risk of creating a two-tier system, which could result in unfairness. Research suggests that 50% to 60% of work across different occupations need to be done in a site-specific way, where staff must be present at a certain place to do it. And even within the same office, some teams may have duties that demand they come to the office full-time.

Despite all this, many staff seem to consider that their preferences should be given priority over the general needs of the business. That is the wrong approach. While individual preferences should certainly be taken into account and accommodated if reasonable to do so, the deciding factor is whether it will work properly for all parties.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2024 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.