One of the great debates of the past several months has been about the role of the office.
The outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020 led to overnight changes in the way many of us worked. And more than two years on, many have embraced remote working and the many benefits it can provide for wellbeing and work-life balance.
But now, months clear of major COVID waves, many firms are ushering staff back to the office, and lots are keen to shun the hybrid model and get their workforce out of their home offices for good. Some have taken drastic measures to ensure this. In London, for example, all employees and lawyers (with the exception of partners) at City firm Stephenson Harwood were given an ultimatum – get back to the office or continue working from home for 20% less pay.
In the US, the likes of Apple and Google have been resolute with their plans for full-time office returns. But, as the New York Times reports, contactors working for the latter are resisting.
Employees at Cognizant Technology Solutions, the firm to which Google Maps operations are outsourced, were recently told to resume working from their office in Washington five days a week, starting in June.
But around 60% of the 200-strong workforce have signed a petition to maintain home, or at least hybrid, working. Their main concerns are financial, such as commuting costs - gas prices recently hit $5 a gallon, compared to the $16-$28 hourly pay of a CTS worker - and many employees cannot afford to live closer to the CTS headquarters in Bothell, Washington, where the cost of living is higher.
And of course, COVID has not disappeared, and many are apprehensive about suddenly being at greater risk of catching the virus.
NYT cited the example of one particular Google Maps employee, Tyler Brown, who was hired during the pandemic and lives 73 miles away from the CTS office. He estimated that he would have to spend $280 of his $1,000 biweekly pay on gas to drive to work.
“It doesn’t make sense for me to continue..." he said, adding that he plans to quit if the return-to-office plan goes ahead.
Jeff DeMarrais, Cognizant’s chief communications officer, said in a statement: “The health and safety of our employees remains our top priority, and we require our employees to be vaccinated to return to our offices in the United States.”
Remote working can boost inclusivity
As well as the financial gains (or rather, the lack of unnecessary financial loss) that home working can present, data released earlier this year indicated that organisations that have committed to supporting remote work seem to be carving out more inclusive work experiences for staff members.
The analysis from Glint – which looked at aggregated data from millions of staff engagement surveys from over 600 global firms – found that staff members at remote work-friendly organisations were 14% more likely to say that they felt safe to speak their minds. Elsewhere, nine per cent were more likely to state that their leaders value different perspectives, compared to peers in organisations that haven’t enabled remote work.
Glint’s study also highlighted that virtual work can create a range of opportunities that can help to strengthen feelings of inclusion among employees.
For example, the data stated that virtual ways of working can provide increased flexibility for those with caregiving responsibilities and bypass location bias, among other things.
The evolution of flexible working has empowered people to work in a way that better reflects their personal circumstances, whether that’s coming into the office every day, adopting a hybrid working pattern or working entirely remotely in another country.
This flexibility opens up the jobs market to a much more diverse cross-section of employees who are joining organisations with cultures and working practices that allow them to feel freer to be their authentic selves. As working becomes increasingly borderless, it’s essential that business leaders build on these gains by ensuring that company culture is consistent for everyone, no matter how or where they work.
But despite the gains that many are experiencing, some employees are missing the unique interactions that come from seeing colleagues face to face
Maintaining a distinctive company culture that welcomes diversity of thought, experience and working patterns is vital for businesses looking to keep their people motivated.
It’s not just about how managers recognise and reward their teams though - empowering colleagues to connect with each other in different ways, from anywhere in the world, will help to build bonds and a more cohesive workforce.