Posted July 12, 2021 by Mark Perna
It’s not just employees who benefit when they gain a voice in how, when and where they work. Mark’s article, “3 Reasons Employees Should Lead The Way Back To The Office,” published at Forbes.com on June 10, 2021.
As companies weigh the pros and cons of bringing employees back to the office, they’re asking two pivotal questions: What’s best for the business? And what do employees really want?
For both questions, the answer boils down to one word: flexibility. Hibob, the HRIS that works with over 800 HR departments worldwide, recently conducted a survey on hybrid work and the return to the office. Unsurprisingly, flexibility was the top priority of 90% of respondents, who ranged from individual contributors to senior managers.
Employee empowerment is at the heart of flexible work. Giving workers the freedom to determine when, how and where they work may terrify some organizations, but the visionaries are seeing the opportunities afforded by this new way of working. When workers lead the way back to the office, everyone will benefit.
After more than a year of working from home, returning to the office can be an emotional decision. Company leaders, taxed with the wellbeing of both the employees and the bottom line, are feeling the pressure. Individual employees are feeling anything from excitement, anticipation and happiness to uneasiness, hesitation and even fear—and maybe all of the above.
“At Hibob, we’re seeing that a lot of our clients and their people have become accustomed to the benefits of working remotely or in hybrid situations,” says Rhiannon Staples, Hibob’s CMO. “Most aren’t interested in going back to working in-office five days a week as we were doing 18 months ago.”
At the same time, there are signs that others are ready to return to in-person work. Twenty-six percent ranked socialization at the physical office as the most important aspect of in-person work, while another 35% felt it was collaboration. “Many are excited to return to work for interpersonal connection, yet desire the continued flexibility to work remotely in some capacity,” says Staples.
With all the emotions in play, it makes sense to give employees a voice in how, when, where and even why they come back to in-person work. Here are three reasons to let employees lead the way in returning to the office.
According to the survey, job satisfaction is back to pre-pandemic heights, with 71% of those surveyed saying they were highly satisfied in their current position. But that won’t stop them from leaving if their company pursues a hardnosed return-to-office policy.
More than a third (36%) are “very likely” to quit their current job if forced to come back to the office five days a week as they used to. Additionally, employees with children were twice as likely to leave for a new position elsewhere if forced to return to the office full-time. “We highly recommend that companies seriously consider a flexible work approach,” Staples says.
Despite remote work’s rough start in 2020, employees soon discovered they could be just as productive, collaborative and engaged working from home—maybe even more so. And yet, many still don’t want to give up in-person work altogether.
Enter the hybrid workforce, aka the best of both worlds.
“Across the board we’ve seen a favorable opinion towards hybrid work models,” says Staples. “The majority of managers (73%) said two or three days in the office and the rest working from home would be the preferred hybrid work model, while 54% of individual contributors preferred either a flexible two or three days a week in the office or an ‘at-will’ hybrid model.”
Working parents were more likely to prefer a hybrid model because it permits a better split between work and family time, with 84% saying that benefits of a hybrid/remote work model outweighed the cons.
For employers, hybrid/remote models can decrease overhead with smaller, adjusted office spaces, freeing up capital that can be invested in alternative ways. Finally, remote-friendly roles allow for global recruiting, opening up a larger, qualified talent pool and potentially decreasing payroll if recruiting from areas that afford lower costs of living.
The flexibility of remote work is driving employee satisfaction and making a healthier work-life balance possible. “Without the mad dash in the morning to commute, many employees are allowing themselves an extra one to two hours a day for things such as family time, exercise, mental health practices and deep uninterrupted focus for work,” says Staples. And of course, happier workers are more productive.
From an employer perspective, offering home, remote and hybrid work options communicates trust in their workforce. “Take that away from employees, and we are seeing it could have far-reaching impacts—from challenges with recruiting and retaining talent, to employee productivity and satisfaction,” warns Staples. Trust is the secret ingredient that makes remote teams work, as employees live up to the respect shown them.
Flexible work has a bright future ahead, as more and more companies pivot to make their company culture an accommodating and open one. Based on Hibob’s client surveys, Staples says that 94% of companies support hybrid work, citing benefits like helping build company culture and eliminating barriers for women. “Flexibility allows women the option to better balance professional responsibilities with caring for their children and families—ultimately making them more productive and engaged,” says Staples.
Flexibility is no longer just a perk for employees. It’s also the best path forward for companies as they work to attract and retain talented workers. As the return-to-office question looms, there’s never been a more critical moment to ask employees how they would answer it—and empower their voices on how, when and where they want to work.