We need to realise that the next working year will be about experimentation, we are too early into this new hybrid world to be making decisions about our long term future. Companies that feel they have cracked this new world of work will be ‘sorely mistaken’ (to quote Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller). We are starting to hear a lot about employees saying that they never want to go back to work, and its often around this notion that they are more productive at home, but I am not sure this is true.
You may be productive, but you may also just be working longer hours, which for many employees is leading to exhaustion or even burnout. The inability to separate working time with leisure time has become much more difficult. Many employees can be sitting down in the evening to watch tv and they can see their laptop or a work folder in the corner of their eye, bringing them mentally back to work. We also have less boundaries around when other work colleagues can email, text, WhatsApp, ping you, day or night. Given we are all somewhat addicted to our phones, we will do well not to glance at these messages. The old world of work gave us natural boundaries that we are now being asked to create for ourselves.
When we speak about being productive we are often talking about our work and the tasks that we do, but an organisation is more than its individual parts, it’s a collective. As the quote goes “everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted”. On the job training, mentoring, having a laugh with others are all part of a positive work experience and help with learning, motivation and esprit de corps, however they cannot be easily counted the way some tasks can. Most people will tell you that working remotely is very convenient but I am rarely hearing anyone saying its more fun.
There are many employees bemoaning the fact that they now need to go back to the office if even on a part time basis, but we need to have perspective. Before the pandemic began, almost everyone worked five days a week in the office, many are now being allowed work from home for two days a week, that in itself is a massive change. I would also worry why people do not see the benefit of meeting their colleagues again. Meeting people on Zoom/ Teams is an inferior experience and we need to remember that. We do not build up trust over email or video conference it is through all of those small real life experiences. You cannot have side conversation in a video meeting with one other person or share an in-joke, these micro-connections really matter and forge better relationships
It will take at least another year for us to settle into what works best for the employer and employee and in the meantime we need to be flexible. The real powerful change that has happened is to prove that we do not need to be in the office all the time but it certainly has not proved that we should never go back in. I believe that remote working, unless you build a very good community around you will seem much more isolating as you start to see many of your colleagues back in the office. If you cannot see the benefit of re-connecting with your colleagues, putting time into meeting the new staff members hired over the last two years, you might want to consider if you are in the right job at all.
Peter Cosgrove is Managing Director of Futurewise and is working with companies to help their teams navigate the new world of work.