After two-and-a-half years of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, most workers are unwilling to return to the office full time. According to a McKinsey survey, 87% of employees who have the option to work remotely at least part of the time take it.
The same survey notes that 21% of job hunters are searching for new roles that offer greater flexibility than their current ones. Work flexibility is the third-top reason for looking for a new job, ranking just behind individuals seeking a new role that offers better career opportunities.
However, a study conducted by Microsoft shows that 50% of business leaders are tired of remote work. They want their employees back in the office full time and plan to make in-office work a requirement in the coming year.
Clearly, there’s a mismatch between what employees want and what employers will require. How should employers balance the needs of the workplace with those of their employees?
There are several ways that employers can lessen the impact of returning to the office. Let’s examine a few.
A hybrid work structure combines remote work with in-office routines. Workers come to the office according to a specific schedule and perform their remaining work from home.
For instance, a company can ask employees to come to the office two or three days a week. On the remaining days, employees may work from home.
Hybrid structures attempt to satisfy both the worker’s desires and the employer’s needs. Employers can schedule important team meetings when the employees are in the office. Employees can use their time at home for tasks that don’t require in-person interaction with their team.
Employers who have implemented hybrid structures have seen mixed results. Microsoft advises that 85% of employers are concerned about the productivity of their flexible hybrid workers. They aren’t sure whether their employees are engaged in work while at home or if they’re handling personal affairs on company time.
At the same time, the Microsoft study shows that 73% of workers aren’t willing to go into the office unless there’s a specific reason to do so. Most workers feel that they can handle their responsibilities just as effectively at home as they can in the office.
While both employers and employees have legitimate concerns, hybrid work is a happy medium that attempts to address both employer and employee needs.
Some companies simply don’t want to allow their employees to work from home. Their business model may not align with remote work, or they may have other concerns that prevent remote work.
Cybersecurity is a significant concern for some organizations. Government agencies, contractors, and other businesses that work on highly specialized and private goods or services may be concerned about information leaks or hacks. Without the protection that the network security of an office provides, their concerns may be legitimate.
One study by Tenable found that 74% of companies attribute cybersecurity incidents to working from home. Since the company cannot safeguard workers’ network connections except through a corporate VPN, there’s a greater risk that criminal hackers could steal data.
Business owners who have concerns about cybersecurity or other risks can choose to offer a four-day workweek. With this arrangement, employees spend ten hours a day at work before getting a three-day weekend.
Employers who can’t afford to give their workers every Friday or Monday off can offer a biweekly four-day weekend. With a biweekly four-day weekend, employees work approximately nine hours daily before enjoying every second Friday off.
Of course, employers don’t have to require extra working hours each day. They can simply offer the four-day week as a benefit to attract talented employees.
Some employees don’t fit into the traditional 8 AM–5 PM work schedule. They’d rather start early and leave early or start later and end later. Employers can accommodate their schedules by allowing employees to set their start times.
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what time the employee completes their work. If there’s no deadline, they can just as easily finish by 6 or 7 PM rather than 5 PM.
Allowing workers to set their hours gives them more control over their schedules. For example, if they can’t stand the morning rush hour, they can leave earlier or come to work later to avoid it.
Parents of young children may also benefit from setting their hours. Often, they need to see their kids off to school before leaving for work or pick them up from school in the afternoon. Flexible scheduling allows them to do so without too much stress.
Chances are that most employees working from home aren’t dressing up in a suit before sitting at their laptops in the morning. They’re likely wearing loungewear or a comfortable pair of jeans.
Employees like their home working environment because they can dress as they please. There’s no need to impress people around the office. They can pick their own chair that’s comfortable and use the tools they need to do their work.
Employers can improve the office experience by allowing employees to dress casually on days they don’t need to meet with customers or senior leadership. There’s no harm in allowing workers to wear jeans to work, as long as the work gets done.
Managers can also seek to improve wellness benefits for their employees. Offering an on-site gym or a cafeteria can be beneficial. Organizations that don’t have the funds to pay for a gym or lunchroom can offer other less-expensive benefits, like extra PTO days or a stipend for a gym membership.
When workers hear that their employers are requiring them to return to the office full time, there’s no denying that there will be some detractors. After all, most companies adapted to working remotely pretty quickly during the pandemic. Why should they return to the office now?
However, employers can ease the process by offering flexibility to their employees. Even if full-time remote work isn’t possible, there are other ways to meet workers’ needs without losing essential talent.
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