Back to the offices? It won’t be right for everyone.

In March 2020, the speed of emergency calls and sending staff to work from home was commendable and praiseworthy. Global companies that reacted quickly were highlighted in the media, as were their good practices in dealing with sudden homeworking and incentives for their employees. 

What now? The pandemic seems to be over, life is getting back on track, and work is no exception. But can work really return completely to the previous “status quo”? NBC Universal’s experience has shown that people have become accustomed to working from home and are not ready to give it up completely.

Moving from full-time teleworking to hybrid or permanent office-based working requires an adjustment – and for many, it has been an awkward process. Many employees find it hard to break habits they developed while working from home that don’t belong in the office. Things like running meetings in the coach, stealing a cheeky afternoon nap or even pacing around the room to brainstorm ideas. On the other hand, some of these habits will dissipate over time, as the office will force employees to behave in a way that was normal for them before. For some tips on how to do this as a leader, see one of our previous blogs. 

What if employees don’t want to give up teleworking?

In countless organisations, working hours have become screen time. In many cases, we are so familiar with working this way that it can be frustrating for employers who want their employees back in the office. So the question for managers may be, what do we do if we call everyone back to the office, but no one wants to do that?

This is what happened recently at NBC Universal in the US. The manager announced the return to the offices on a video call and asked everyone to return to the offices without prior warning. Instead of the expected silent grumbling, the employees rebelled. They unanimously agreed that the management directive made no sense, citing fear of Covid-19 infection, child protection problems and wildly inflated fuel prices as reasons.

However, the management did not expect such a response. Instead of a unilateral change in company policy, employees spoke up, rejected the idea and, in doing so, probably changed the dynamic between employer and employee in the company forever. 

Could this happen to you? 

Gartner researchers found that as recently as the beginning of 2021, 50% of CEOs were confident that their employees would return to the office fully, i.e. all 5 days of the week, in the near future. Now, in mid-2022, when the near future is here, the same researchers find that 30% of these CEOs have changed their minds.

Results from another teleworking survey showed that 35% of employees surveyed said they had “no consequences” if they did not return to the office when asked to do so by their employer.

And that is what the future of work will look like. Employees have been given more influence over where and how they work during the pandemic, which will only be amplified in the future. What about managers? The flexibility of your workforce will become a competitive advantage and a highly sought-after feature, the implementation of which will certainly be reflected in your business strategy.