A few months back Boris announced that we should return to our workplaces and that people have had enough ‘days off’ at home during the pandemic. This was met with cries of ‘irresponsible’ from the opposition party and some scientists, never mind those of us who have been working long hours at home, hardly ‘days off’. We have now been through ‘freedom day’ and whilst the majority of the adult population are now vaccinated most people who have flexibility are still cautious about when and how often they return to the office.
Red Tiger Talent research earlier this year with the location planning community found that post pandemic it is likely that people, on average, will spend 2 days in the office, 2 days at home and one day on site/customer visits.
To me there are three dynamics at play that seem to dictate attitude to returning to a traditional place of work:
- Individual’s perception of risk to the virus – there is no doubt that this virus has psychologically impacted the population in terms of risk of exposure. Despite the evidence that vaccines help reduce the risk of hospitalisation they certainly don’t grant immunity. Those with underlying health problems are likely to still wish to minimise their potential exposure to the virus (or variants). The under 25s are the last to get vaccinated and they are likely to have the lowest perceived risk of succumbing to the virus. It seems like this cohort are fuelling the current rapid infection rates. Everyone has their own risk perception.
- Individual’s personal circumstance – linked to the above is our personal situation. This will dictate our own receptiveness to when and how often we return to the office. I can see three components to this:
- Home situation – I am feeling stir crazy in my detached house in the countryside – I can only imagine what people who are living in a cramped city centre flat might be thinking. For some its impractical to be working from home all the time and these are much more likely to want to get back into the office.
- Lifestage – As a middle aged man I have certainly seen my tolerance levels waning with age. I can think of nothing worse than doing the daily cramped public transport commute into a major city centre. I value my time (probably because as you get older you become much more aware of your own mortality!) and given the choice I would rather work from home if required. The benefit is that at home I am likely to be working during my typical commute time so productivity has the potential to increase.
- Dependents – I am starting to speak to candidates who have got used to this new flexibility, particularly if they have kids. It is great that in many cases there seems to be more equality in sharing of parental duties – I hope this will eventually narrow the gender pay gap. But it has meant that some will now only consider a change of roles if it is 100% home based. When my children were really young I used to love the hour commute in the morning as it was my only ‘me time’ and the work environment offered a nice change to baby duties, although I couldn’t wait to get back to do bath and bed time.
- Job role/Company – there are inevitably some roles where you have to be in the office regardless and I am aware of a small minority of businesses that are trying to move back to office based.
As recruitment consultants Red Tiger Talent are sat right in the middle of the debate and our observations are that it is not always black and white, but many different shades of grey. To stay true to our analytical roots we have tried to segment workers based on our observations from the last 3 months.
- The stay at homers – This group, often couples with young families have embraced the home working and got into quite a nice groove in relation to juggling work and parental responsibilities. Having to go back into the office only a handful of times a month will not be a welcome introduction that they would rather not. This certainly isn’t me, I enjoy working from home and can motivate myself to do that but I do crave a change of scenery. I would typically be in London for 2-3 days per month and I do miss that. Going to a clients office, a coffee shop, meeting a candidate in a hotel lobby – these will come back again.
- The desperate to mingle – This group are wanting to get back into the office. They thrive off their colleagues, the camaraderie, the banter and their very visible commitment to the powers that be that they are getting back to ‘normality’. They often struggle with motivating themselves to work at home and are easily distracted. They may also miss the after-hours socials that tend to happen on a regular basis.
- The ‘sit on the fences’ – This segment recognise the need to be in the office and all the benefits that can bring but also appreciate being able to work from home. They are, as we speak, probably trying to work out the most cost effective/flexible way to buy their flexible season tickets
What does Rishi Sunak say?
Even the government are wading in with advice for young people after lockdown.
“Young people will see their careers benefit by working in the office” the Chancellor, Rishi SunakBBC News
He told LinkedIn News he doubted he would have done as well if he had started his working life virtually.
He said he still talked to his early mentors, saying: “I doubt I would have had those strong relationships if I was doing my summer internship or my first bit of my career over Teams and Zoom.”
“That’s why I think for young people in particular, being able to physically be in an office is valuable,” he added.
The government has recommended a gradual return to work in England since restrictions were lifted on 19 July. However, the Scottish government wants people to keep working at home until at least 9 August, where possible.
You can read the full article here, ‘Rishi Sunak says young homeworking may hurt their career.’
I firmly believe there has been a shift in the balance of power towards employees in relation to flexibility of work location / times. When I first started as a graduate in DTZ Research there wasn’t even a notion of working from home (why would I want to get a job and not work in an office?!) and now for most roles, there is some ability to work from home.
Employees however, do need to recognise that as well as their own welfare and what is right for them there is also the needs of the business to consider.
For businesses there is no doubt that employees need to feel valued, supported and trusted and those companies that successfully navigate what is right for the business and what is right for individual employees will inevitably drive employee engagement and staff retention. I know of a few cases where for lifestyle reasons valued employees have moved to a location that is not practical for a regular commute to their office and the business has supported (and retained) them. I also know of a number of cases where this move has happened and the employee has no choice but to find alternative employment.
Moving to a completely remote working environment has a number of drawbacks (and I get that pre pandemic there are a number of home based roles). There are certainly issues around feelings of isolation and I would argue that employee engagement with the business/brand is a lot stronger if there is some sort of regular physical connection with a corporate office.
From a recruitment perspective we are seeing companies become more flexible in where their staff are based in relation to the office. There are contractual challenges around location of work and cost implications to consider but for the right person these are often navigable. This is great because I have previously seen excellent candidates being turned down on the basis of them being too far away from the office. Geographically, opening the talent pool up is not a bad thing, although it is likely to mean that Red Tiger Talent will have to add more international candidates to our database.
Where do you fit into the categories above? Are you desperate to get back to the office? Happy to have more flexibility or feeling like you’d love to continue working 100% from home?
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