Cover Story: Return to the Office Will Take Longer or Maybe Never 0

Dr.-Ankita-Singh,-Senior-Vice-President-&-Global-Head-of-HR,-IT,-Travel-&-Admin,-CIGNEX-Datamatics

Employers nudging their workers to return into offices may not find themselves compatible with employees who have welcomed remote as the new normal and standard functioning model. Back to office will take much longer to be back as a full-fledged model for any business. For many sectors; maybe never!

Back to the office? Says who? Employers don’t want to take any chance or risk because of the probability of a third wave of the pandemic and increased exposure to illnesses. On the other hand, employees have sensed the freedom to work from anywhere at their own pace; they will find valid reasons to justify work from home. Hence, for now, the most opted option is to let employees decide for themselves.

According to the Flexjobs’ 10th Annual Survey, only 3% want to return to work in-person, with 58% wanting a fully remote job, while 39% prefer a hybrid work arrangement. The same survey highlighted that 58% would look for a new job if asked to return to the office.

The work from home concept became necessary with the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, which changed the dynamics of all life perspectives and introduced “re” and the “new/next normal” as the relatable buzzwords. To get aligned to the new normal, organizations had to re-imagine, re-align, re-strategize, and re-do in almost all established phases. The uncertain situation led companies to explore and develop short-term plans as the road ahead looked too tangled to untangle.

Normalcy and business as usual continued to get redefined every day. Everybody knew that to stay relevant in the game; one had to accept, adapt, and change. Not everybody predicted that their short-term approaches would further get shortened by the changing needs of the time and people, and companies will reasonably have to develop newer strategies every day. To meet the ever-changing demand, diverse operating models for managing work and workforce started getting defined every day, with the core being Safety, Adaptability, Flexibility, and Empathy (SAFE).

Normalcy and business as usual continued to get redefined every day. Everybody knew that to stay relevant in the game; one had to accept, adapt, and change. Not everybody predicted that their short-term approaches would further get shortened by the changing needs of the time and people, and companies will reasonably have to develop newer strategies every day.”  

It’s not a question that has a binary answer. The decision-makers will continue to allow their employees to choose whether to return to the office or work from home/anywhere for some more time. Primarily, every organization follows the BASIC (Business, Acceptability, Safety, Intent, and Cost) approach to decide on the current suitable model. Elaborating the same:

Business: If organizations can manage customers, timely deliverables, and employee safety and wellbeing, they are good to continue with work from home forever. Companies like Twitter, Spotify, and Facebook have already embraced permanent remote work culture. Flexibility/work from home will continue to be the first choice of employers and employees for all the roles manageable from home. There are sectors where employees have to work from their designated units. The nature and need of the business will persist as a crucial determining factor.

Also Read:  Augmenting Employee Experience Through Policy & Practices

Acceptability: It can’t be a traditional approach. Employees’ acceptability is equally essential. As the numbers exhibit, employees are quitting instead of giving up the work-from-home option. The urge to get people back into offices may not connect well with employees who have welcomed remote as the new normal and standard functioning model. 83% of employers recently stated that the shift to remote work has been successful for their company, compared to 73% in the PWC June 2020 survey report. Employees would want to understand the “Why” of the adopted approach before accepting the “When and How.”

Safety: With not all employees fully vaccinated, people are still scared. According to a Gallup study, 54 percent of employees would leave their job for a company that offers more flexibility. Citing safety as a primary concern despite vaccination, many companies revised their decision of hybrid working model and accepted that for the time being, it is better to either allow 100% work from home or let the employee decide. Work from the office, if offered, will remain as an option, not a mandate, for months to come.

Intent: It’s the need that defines the model for organizations and place of work for employees. With technological advancement and internet connectivity, it has become difficult for organizations to justify why individuals should work from the office. Everybody wants to discuss the work rather than the place of work and standard working timings. A survey conducted by Growmotely indicated that 61% of employees prefer being fully remote. Have good intent and reasons? Share the WHY to see them FLY (from home to office!).

Cost: Business at the end of the day is about numbers. Once the strategists have taken care of people’s safety, wellbeing, and productivity, the next priority or point of consideration would be operating cost. If the savings projected are humongous, in favor of employees and the employer, the base of decision-making is set. Many organizations recently announced that if there is a need to have employees back in the office, not more than 25 to 30 percent of the total workforce will be in the office at any point in time. It’s not just about the people’s preferences but also the cost-saving hybrid model.

There is not one king today! Customer, Employer, or Employee; each day will define who the “ruler” of the day is, and the world will have to make the required shift to fit in. The equation will change with changing needs, and there won’t be a solution, but with all permutations and combinations, there will be a set of solutions. Back to office will take much longer to be back as a full-fledged model for any business. For many sectors; maybe never!

Also Read:  Embracing ‘Hybrid’ into the Future of Workplace

The default model for years ahead will remain as remote working/working from anywhere, and the designed model will keep changing, with the help of data leaders, continuously to meet the need of the time, business, and people.

Nobody is sure what the future has in store for us. Organizations and employees are experimenting and exploring to find the best workable equation for their requirements. The trial and testing will not stop any sooner. We will take much longer than we thought to decide what will be the most feasible model.

With flexibility comes individual preferences, with individual preferences, comes variations, and with variations, inconsistencies. The model or the best current model for any organization for a long time will be the inconsistent one. Inconsistency is a new consistency.  It will stay there as a daunting task for organizations to define the most feasible/correct model.

With flexibility comes individual preferences, with Individual preferences, comes variations, and with variations, inconsistencies. The model or the best current model for any organization for a long time will be the inconsistent one. Inconsistency is a new consistency.  It will stay there as a daunting task for organizations to define the most feasible/correct model. The speed at which everything around us changes will directly impact and govern the “should be” and “will be” operating models. Remote work is essential. Organizations that are allowing voluntary work from the office, in a way, are agreeing to work from anywhere.

Work from anywhere will be the most preferred option taken by the employees and given by the employers, till the end of this year.

By the way, why are we even discussing the “back to office” option for the roles manageable from home? Because we are humans, we are social beings, and we need newness every day. No matter how perfect the offering is, we may seek some change after a few days. Face-to-face collaboration may not be necessary for business needs but will definitely be an employee’s social need. We are in an epoch of integration and not balance.   

It’s all about choices, but there is no right choice; what works, works!

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Ankita Singh is the Senior Vice President & Global Head of HR, IT, Travel & Admin at CIGNEX Datamatics. She has over 22 years of wide experience in managing and leading various aspects of Human Resources spanning across high-paced business domains of ITES.

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