Home, Office, or Hybrid?
I wrote this blog over the course of three months. Each time that I came back to write it, there had been a development in the pandemic and our ongoing journey through it.
Needless to say, for a blog that asks the question ‘Home, Office, or Hybrid?’ I thought it would be best to wait and see how the situation developed, along with the opinion pieces and, on occasions, the propaganda that has been published on the topic in the UK.
But, our social media agency told me that I can’t delay this blog any further, or it won’t be ready in time for Christmas!
Howarth Morris has recruited for Finance and HR Professionals across the UK for 15 years, so with the number of candidates and businesses we speak with on a daily basis, as well as the thoughts of our own colleagues, we thought it was time to share the results and trends of the feedback from all these first-hand sources.
Is this the ‘new normal’?
Yes and no.
Yes – the dramatic changes in practices that were forced on us since March 2020 have changed how we work forever.
No – we are still getting used to what works best for our own team, department, and company. And I think it will take another year before we recognise what our best balance will be for the medium term.
But more on these issues later – let me get to the real core of the conundrum.
Introduction and conclusion
We have all started to read blogs or articles and get frustrated wading through unnecessary background and preambles. So, here you go!
Wherever you can in your business, plan and implement a clear, considered hybrid working policy that takes into account the roles and needs of the business and stakeholders in and around it. Be sensitive to those whose roles do not allow flexibility and do not penalise those you offer flexibility to.
Every business, its staff, supply chain, customers/clients, and stakeholders are different. So, each business, and even separate sites and departments within a business, need to identify the best solution for their stakeholders.
I also appreciate there are sectors, businesses, and departments or functions in businesses where remote or hybrid working is just not possible – think manufacturing, hospitality, retail, care, logistics – and that needs to be dealt with fairly and honestly. Not every role can be dealt with in the same manner – a 24/7 manufacturing site doesn’t insist on its finance team working night shifts.
Offering flexibility, but then penalising staff for taking it does not make sense to me. If a colleague works remotely because their role and employer have said that they allow it, why should they be penalised with a pay cut when they cost the business less in function and facility costs?
I don’t want my staff to work remotely
That’s fine. They may not want to. But have you consulted them, and considered your rationale? If it is to balance the needs of your customers, suppliers, and colleagues – that’s fine and in our experience, your engaged team will understand.
If it’s because ‘that’s just how it should be’ or worse, because you don’t trust your staff to work without supervision, you need to review your relationships and trust that you have for your team. With record levels of people in employment, job vacancies, and record low levels of active job seekers, we are in a phase where the employee has greater expectations of their leaders/employers and a stronger hand in the employer/employee relationship.
What do my staff want?
The one thing I can guarantee is that they will all want something different because their circumstances will all be different. People have made broad-brush generalisations such as the younger working population wanting to be in an office full time, and the more mature generation (with children, aging parents, or living further from a town or city centre) will want to work from home. It is important to remember that these are just generalisations, and are not always accurate.
What we see from most professionals is that they want an element of flexibility and to be trusted. As the world of work continues to change (and it has always been thus) they want to be consulted. In our experience, people understand that they need to be flexible too.
So, ask them. But make sure you do not hide the needs of the business, its customers, and its stakeholders, too. Show some trust and confidence in your team.
Won’t everything just return to normal after Christmas?
No. As mentioned above, I think it will be another 6-12 months before we really see what the real balance is, but I guarantee that the work landscape will never be the same as it was pre-pandemic.
We have seen the world of work change more in the last 18 months than in the previous 15 years. We have also seen how able the tech and digital sectors are to react and develop tools, programmes, and platforms to aid and enable remote working at a low cost. It has been incredible.
Even in pre-2020 there were already changes being made. Howarth Morris as a business had the most flexible working conditions in our sector but now they would not even raise an eyebrow.
We were meeting clients in 2017 and 2018 who had benefits ranging from duvet days, working from home days right through to fully remote working (the credit control manager of one of our UK-based suppliers lived in Barcelona) and unlimited annual holiday entitlement. So, this is not new, and it is not a phenomenon.
It has also been predicted by economists and tech business leaders much brighter than I that the days of a standard 35-hour, 5-day working week are numbered. The acceleration of tech, AI, and associated efficiencies means are Children are more likely to be in education for 4 days a week as a standard – but for the same reward as 5 days return now. Just because of efficiencies created by technology.
As mentioned above – we used to work 7 days per week with no holiday entitlement, and started work at the age of 11 or 12; then we went to 6 ½ days’ work per week and the working-age increased to 13 and so on. The world of work is fluid and not a constant. It never has been.
What are our candidates saying?
Most of the people we speak to have found advantages in some elements of the remote working platform that has been forced on many people in the various lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 and these are advantages that they don’t want to relinquish.
Indeed, if you asked their views at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 many would say they preferred a remote work pattern. But as time has gone on with continuing uncertainty many have missed some elements of a fixed office or work location.
As well as being an economic activity, work is also a human activity that most humans enjoy and benefit from. Work allows us to contact and communicate with others, and there is extensive evidence that such face-to-face contact can also drive productivity, innovation, and give a sense of belonging. This does not begin to cover the importance of face-to-face team contact in the induction, training, and development of new colleagues – particularly younger co-workers who rely on that contact to learn and develop in the preliminary stages of their careers.
The consensus across the vast majority of candidates we speak to is that they want a sensible blend.
Those without major responsibilities outside of work (children, aging parents etc) want an element of flexibility, and those with the responsibilities that come as we get older need the flexibility to be able to effectively balance success at work and their personal lives.
Employees at the beginning of their careers recognise the need for office time to learn and develop from more experienced colleagues and managers – and typically those people also derive real pleasure and satisfaction from helping less experienced colleagues grow.
What if I don’t want to introduce flexible working?
If that is the right thing for your business and your stakeholders, then not introducing it is the right thing to do. And your teams will understand that.
If it isn’t? They will understand that too. And if you have read my earlier blogs on the current candidate market or have tried to recruit in the last 6 months, you know that introducing factors that will push your hard-trained team into the employment of your competitors will be painful and could take months to replace. If you are seeking to grow your existing team, losing staff cheaply by not maintaining an understanding of the talent market makes that doubly difficult.
The most common reason we currently experience candidates withdrawing from recruitment processes or deciding not to be put forward is the lack of a flexible working policy in businesses where it would or should not affect the operation and delivery of the organisation.
Even if candidates do not require flexibility, or require only minimal flexibility – it is more that the values and outlook of the potential employer appears out of step with the market and what many other companies are implementing.
So, what are the benefits of a flexible work platform (where it is applicable)?
Our experience is that there are a number of benefits. But, there are also multiple benefits of a more traditional work pattern too – which is why we believe that a hybrid approach is best. Some of the benefits of a hybrid work structure are: –
- Loyalty and retention of your existing team
- There is much evidence suggesting greater productivity
- Often, people will be logging on and active when they otherwise would have been commuting meaning greater speedier access for your clients
- A more hybrid structure is more attractive to potential staff
- A hybrid structure can attract candidates from a wider catchment are than before if they do not have to commute 5 days per week, at rush hour, to a fixed location – a real key benefit in the current climate
- Potential reduction in office costs
- A potentially happier team
But at the same time, be sure not to forget the training, development, and social benefit of face-to-face contact.
If you want to discuss any of the elements covered above please do not hesitate to contact myself or my colleagues.
We hope you have found this blog both insightful and inspiring. For further information, tips and advice contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.