Remote working tensions – employers and employees

The tensions between employers and employees only seem to be getting worse around the whole issue of working remotely. Recently we have seen significant issues at Apple where the leadership are expectant of a minimum of three days a week in the office, but the employees don’t believe that this is necessary. This may be an issue that only continues to escalate as we move into September.

What Employers need to think about:

How is the workday different when I am in the office? If an employee is still on zoom calls and MS Teams meetings most of the day and working alone, you can easily argue that coming into the office has just wasted commute time. Employers need to be very conscious of what work is being done when you get people together and the importance of using this time to build connection. Progressive companies are not just reopening the office they are reimagining what the office should look like.

Is the way it used to be the right way? Too many employers are looking to get people back to the office because that is the way it used to be, but that does not mean it needs to be the only way. Many employees have seen what is possible during covid and rightly want to have more flexibility but will work just as hard if not harder to have this. Employers need to look at the benefits of giving employees more flexibility which will lead to a happier and then generally a better worker.

Do we have the right technology tools? There is a huge array of new technology tools that can help collaboration, innovation, connection when remote, however the starting point should not be the technology, it should be understanding the problem you need to solve. Most employees are being bombarded by multiple communication tools – email, slack, zoom, IM, WhatsApp and the answer might be less technology or at least better deployed.

What Employees need to think about:

Is working from home affecting my upward mobility? While many employers still like to see employees in the office, the one advantage it gives the employees is visibility, and this can help them be top of mind for new projects or initiatives. This is not something that happens maliciously, it is just human nature. As you move up an organisation, who you know and who knows you, can be more important than what you know. Consider how well you are maintaining a network if you are not in the office as much.

Am I more productive? The phrase “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted” is important to consider. We talk about productivity in terms of tasks and workload but miss some the interpersonal skills we learn from being around others. Seeing how an expert handles a negotiation, a difficult client, a crisis or even just the day to day of managing and coaching others, this learning may be lost if you are not physically in the office. These are key skills you must work on every day and are critical to your long-term success but cannot be easily put into a productivity box.

Am I becoming more isolated? Humans crave connection and not over a screen but in real life. If you are one of those people who works from home and is a pillar of the community (neighbourhood watch, sea swimming, GAA coach and book club member) then great! However, for many working from home has meant less connection with others and is leading to us working longer hours and becoming burnt out. Realise that you may need to be in the office to build connection and have real-life conversations and experience less digital exhaustion. While lots of people say home working is more convenient, very few say it is more fun.

The next few months will be interesting to see how many employers move from the flexible stance of “work wherever you want to get the job done” to a more prescriptive number of days in the office. As the saying goes – it will probably get worse before it gets better.

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