The way most of us work has hugely changed over the past two years. Working from home for all or part of the time has become ‘the new normal’, with a survey by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Management (CMI) showing that 80% of their member companies have adopted ‘hybrid working’. What now needs to be understood is whether this way of working here to stay?
Ann Francke, the CMI’s Chief Executive, is in little doubt: “We are experiencing an uptick in productivity and an uptick in many companies results. We are not saying everyone should work from home 100% of the time, we are saying that the best practice is to have a blend, so when you come into the office, you can do those things that are difficult to do remotely.”
Distracting rather than productive
Gathering in offices on a daily basis can be distracting rather than productive and micro-management is now widely accepted as being damaging to creativity. Bain & Co, one of the world’s leading management consultancies, estimates that most of its managers spend over 20 hours a week in meetings, begging the question when do they do any actual work? French economist Corinne Maier, named in 2016 as one of the BBC’s Top 100 Women, claimed that left undisturbed, she could complete her normal daily scheduled workload within two hours.
Prior to 2020, occasionally working from home was seen as a luxury enjoyed by the few. Then, all of a sudden, it became a necessity for the majority. The surprise was that it appeared to be an improvement, both for employees and employers. Services such as Zoom are now accepted as quick, convenient and timesaving for millions across the world. Surely that 200-mile round trip to see one client, for an hour, to discuss something straightforward is now a thing of the past.
Freedom to work remotely
As pandemic restrictions ease, it may be that the freedom for millions of previously office-based workers to work remotely will continue. There now seems to be a shift in thinking away from ‘one extreme or the other’ and towards what is being called ‘hybrid working’. Who needs expensive premises to accomplish this? Co-working sites with diarised meeting rooms, hot desks and other shared facilities seem far more logical. Getting together to exchange ideas and feedback, collaborate on projects and build a team dynamic is essential, but every day, from first thing in the morning until the end of the afternoon… that no longer sounds productive or even sensible. In fact, less frequency can lead to more focus, more commitment and, therefore, greater effectiveness.
Business owners always seek increased productivity and reduced overheads. There can be little argument that these wins are best achieved by colleagues who are happier, enjoying more time with family, less time commuting and saving money on transport and other costs.
I know of employers who now use a ‘revolving door’ workspace to provide additional benefits that would otherwise prove too expensive for the employee – subsidised facilities such as restaurants, gymnasia and creches. Many workers, especially those in repetitive roles, simply work to live. If their work was changed into a more pleasurable experience, it makes sense that they would become more effective.
A U-turn in thinking
When tragedy strikes in our personal lives, the cliché is to talk about life being “put into perspective”. In our professional lives, maybe Covid-19 has had the same effect? Maybe much of what we did previously was inefficient, unproductive or even disrespectful of colleagues?
Previously, those who were able to choose to spend some of their time working from home were perceived as being privileged. Those not in that same position thought of those colleagues as using these opportunities to duck out, sleep late or improve their golf handicaps. But, almost in the blink of any eye, there has been a U-turn in thinking, and maybe those who argue loudest in favour of a full-time return to office working should be viewed as out of touch and even self-important. Nobody really knows, but at least this interesting question is now on the agenda!