Like many office workers, you’ve been working remotely in the past year and have fallen into a productive routine. But now COVID-19 restrictions are being eased, it’s clear your boss wants you to return to the office as soon as possible – and there doesn’t seem to be any scope for flexibility. Unfortunately, it’s a scenario many people are facing.
As people start returning to offices across the UK, decisions will be made about who will return and where employees will be working where in the future. Although some can’t wait to return to the office, others will continue working from home for the foreseeable – and many will trial a “hybrid model” of part-time office work.
Clearly, there is no “one size fits all” policy when it comes to work. To get as many benefits as possible from both remote and office working, employers need to involve workers in the decision-making process. Flexibility needs to work for workers, not just employers.
“We’ve seen a surge in conversations around flexible working on LinkedIn since we entered lockdown,” says Charlotte Davies, careers expert at LinkedIn (MSFT). “Understandably, after over a year of working mostly from home, many Brits have re-evaluated what is important to them when it comes to their working set-up post-pandemic, whether that’s having more time to exercise and meditate or being available to do the school run.
“Yet what that ideal set-up looks like really varies from person to person, presenting a real challenge for employers planning the return to the office,” she adds. “In a poll we carried out in August 2020, 27% claimed their ideal set up would be to work from home three days a week, but there’s still 17% who don’t want to go into the office at all, and 15% who would prefer to work in the office all the time.”
However, the last time people returned to the office, there was a gap between the concerns and expectations of workers. There was also a divide in how companies addressed these issues too, Davies adds.
“That’s why it’s so important for employees to have open and honest conversations with their employers, to communicate exactly what they need,” she says. “These conversations can sometimes feel daunting, but by being clear on what you want, whilst showing willingness to compromise, you can negotiate a set up that feels right for you.”
The pandemic has revealed something that organisations have been historically shying away from – that we are all humans first and professionals second. Getting input from employees on what they think about flexible working arrangements is key.
Not only does this help employers create carefully considered working schedules, but those asked to provide input will have a sense of involvement in the decision-making process. Although you might not be able to please everyone with these types of decisions, making them with transparency can go a long way.
Shane Metcalf, chief culture officer and co-founder at the employee engagement organisation 15Five, says we now have an opportunity to reinvent the way we treat employees and change working culture for the better.
“We call it dynamic human leadership,” he says. “It’s not an entirely new but a timely idea. It entails more freedom, more compassion, more individualisation – to not only make space for the human in each of us to grow, but to prioritise the holistic view of an individual and understand its strategic value in achieving business outcomes.”
To create this environment, both managers and employees have to work together. Managers need to find out more about their employees and the responsibilities they have outside of the workplace, to fully understand and take into account their flexible working needs.
“You have to start with understanding human needs, not just paving over them,” Metcalf says. “It’s important to acknowledge that flexible schedules should be created by the employee, not the company. We are all fully formed adults who know the demands of our lives better than anyone else. The biggest mistake managers make is not trusting their people to produce agreed upon outcomes.”