In years gone by it always felt like a privilege to work from home. Despite major corporations – Amazon, Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan – reporting large profits during the pandemic even though almost all of their employees worked from home, there has been an underlying sentiment amongst most businesses that people will eventually return to the office once lockdowns are lifted.

As the vaccine rollout has gathered speed, with over 63% of UK adults being fully vaccinated as of August 2021, a return to pre-pandemic life, or some semblance of that existence, is fast-approaching. If leaders think they can order employees back for 5-days of the week however, they need to reconsider their position on returning to work. Ernst Young recently published a survey that reported, ‘more than half of employees globally would quit their jobs if not provided post-pandemic flexibility’, with ‘nine in ten respondents [wanting] flexibility in where and when they work.’ These statistics ring true when speaking to our own clients and candidates. The majority want to agree on a hybrid-working model, where employees are expected in the office two or three times per week, predominantly to engage in collaborative working sessions or to sit face-to-face in important meetings.

Despite the overriding desire for flexibility and hybrid-working, tech giant Google recently announced that it may ‘cut the pay of remote workers’. Similarly, JP Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, has made his desire very clear – stating that remote work doesn’t work ‘for those who want to hustle.’ Goldman Sachs CEO, David Solomon, shared Dimon’s sentiment, explaining that ‘I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us.’ There is a lot of validity to this argument. How will junior team members learn if they are not mentored by senior leaders? All jobs require a certain level of learning via osmosis; the act of being present amongst others in the business is a learning opportunity in itself.

Regardless of these understandable yet hard-nosed arguments for a full-time return to the office, lessons learned during the pandemic must be considered when determining your back-to-office strategy. Many businesses adapted well and profitability was not affected when teams worked solely from home. Employees reported an improvement in work-life balance as a result of more flexibility, and the entire world population endured a dangerous and century-defining global crisis – empathy is key.

The varying opinions on this topic demonstrate that there is no ‘correct’ approach. There is no cookie-cutter, one-size fits all solution when defining your back-to-work policy. With this in mind, here are a few key things to consider:

  • Listen to your employees
    Ask, what do they want? Approach the conversation with transparency, empathy and understanding. Most employees want to do the best job they can and to succeed in tandem with the business succeeding. This honest approach will improve relationships across the business, help teams deliver high-quality work and enhance company culture.

  • Understand that work culture has changed
    A global pandemic has given us all an opportunity to reflect on what we deem important. It has been difficult for families to spend time together and sadly some people have lost their lives. The health crisis has acted as a reminder for many that there is more to life than work.

  • Consider the importance of human connection
    It goes without saying that in-person interactions ignite bright ideas, energise us and ultimately make us feel good. Remember the importance of colleague contact when defining your back-to-work policy. Even the folks at Zoom have recognised this, recently announcing a hybrid return to work for its employees.

  • Remember the mentors
    Most professionals learn their job by working face-to-face with mentors and via osmosis just by being in the office, which is almost impossible to replicate in the virtual world. It is crucial that junior people learn from their senior colleagues and physically spend time with their teams, therefore specific time should be designated for this.

Of course, all businesses are different, and there is no right answer here. “How many days in the office is the first thing candidates ask now, after pay,” said one panellist at a recent round-table discussion for Group Finance Controllers, hosted by BIE. Another panellist explained that their company has made it clear that the return to the office is happening, slowly but surely. “We were forced into this situation of remote and flexible working over the past 18 months,” they explained. “And while a ‘new normal’ may have started emerging for some, we want to get back to where we were before.” Some organisations require their staff on-site to perform their roles and that can’t be changed. For many, however, there is an opportunity here to redefine work forever. Remember, adaptability and agility are crucial. Listen to your people and make informed, considerate decisions when defining your organisation’s new normal and your roadmap for new working practices in the future.

Written by

Rob Walker

As CEO of BIE, Rob is responsible for the strategic direction and development of the business. This has included evolving BIE’s proposition from solely an interim provider, to include a search and, most recently, a business consulting offering, providing a holistic transformation solution for any organisation going through change.

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