To remote, or not to remote, that is the question!
Anzo Francis, LSCA Vice President and Business Board Chair, shares her thoughts.
Whether ‘tis nobler to fully remote, or nobler to partially remote, or nobler to return to ‘how things were in the good old days before Covid-19’, it would be good to find an answer. This is the issue facing many businesses and organisations across the country, and globally. The question is complex and emotional, and there is no consensus.
As we have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic experience, many sectors function in specific buildings or use specific heavy equipment, and therefore do not have the option to remote-work e.g. health care, social care, personal care. transport, construction, delivery, hospitality, and leisure industries. In contrast, for office-based businesses, there is a continuum of options along the spectrum between no-remote and all-remote, as demonstrated by graph 1 from Gitlab:
From ‘2020 The Remote Playbook from the largest all-remote company in the world’, Gitlab
What are the options on the no-remote/all-remote continuum?
- Close offices and go fully remote;
- Remote bias with smaller office;
- Hybrid-remote arrangement;
- Office base with flexible remote (e.g. employer specifies a minimum number of days to be worked from the office each month);
- Office base with fixed remote (e.g. employer requires employee to work in the office a specific number of days per week); or
- Office base with no remote working.
What are the pros and cons of each option, for the company, for customers, and for staff? Getting to the right answer will depend very much on each organisation’s business model, cultural norms and values. What is becoming clear, is that there is a disconnect between how some employers see the future, and how their employees see it.
Some executives have come out ’guns-blazing’ on the question. A recent survey by McKinsey shows that many C-suite executives consider a return to the office, post-pandemic, as the best way forward, as per graph 2 from McKinsey.
Another survey by McKinsey, this time of 5,000 plus employees working globally, identified that 75% of the employees would like to work from home for two or more days per week, and more than 50% of the employees want at least three days of remote work (graph 3).
The potential disconnect between employers and employees is further complicated by employee needs and perspectives having become more complex during the pandemic. Some employees have difficulties working from home due to space constraints, or are working longer hours than normal, or not taking sufficient breaks. Some are suffering from pandemic fatigue, have recovered from a bout of Covid-19, or may be suffering from long Covid. The trauma caused by the loss of loved ones to Covid-19, a deterioration in social networks, offset by opportunities to move location, may have encouraged some people to re-evaluate the quality of their lives, their lifestyle choices, and work/life balance.
To navigate the coming months, it will be important for employers to engage in conversation with their employees, carry out surveys, hold focus groups etc. This dialogue will be essential to maintain good employee relations and productivity, whilst making the decision on where each organisation should ‘land’ on the no-remote/all-remote continuum.