The roads are busier. So are trains and buses. Office workers are returning to their workplaces, but it’s not like before. Here are the five rules of returning to the office.
1. It’s hybrid and not remote. Words are important and most employers emphasize that their approach is to adapt to a new hybrid model. “It’s important to get the message across that the office is still the primary place to work,” says the managing director of one of Dublin’s largest office employers. That doesn’t mean that in some cases remote working — where people aren’t supposed to be in the office most of the time — won’t be made easier. Employees have the legal right to request remote work, after all. But employers are pushing for employees to be back in the office at least some of the time.
It’s a balance. Most employers are keen to see the office as a key place to work, but in a tight job market they realize that losing key employees or failing to attract new ones can be a risk. When Apple boss Tim Cooke sought to bring employees back three days a week earlier this year, he was met with significant resistance and the resignation of at least one key member of his management team.
In various surveys, most employers report that productivity has improved or at least remained stable throughout the remote work phase. The return to a hybrid model is now designed to solve the problems that have arisen when working remotely for people management, innovation and teamwork – and the sense of isolation felt by some, but it’s is tricky management work – in a recent large UK survey, two-thirds of companies said they struggled to get at least some of their employees back into the office. Some rush while others never want to see the office again. Some say they work much better in the quiet of the house, others prefer the more traditional office setting. There is no single solution that will satisfy everyone.
2. Come meet your team. A key post-Covid question is how to get the right level of in-person interaction – seen as important for organisation, innovation and just to restore some of the normal face-to-face contact, particularly important for new members of the team. Rebuilding social capital – and social connections – is seen as vital by companies and many employees, according to a recent survey of 20,000 companies by Microsoft, which also analyzed data on the use of its products to remote and hybrid work trends.
So while the “rules” set by different companies differ, a common emerging approach is to expect people in the same group or team to have at least one day a week when they are together in their desk. This allows for a team meeting as well as face-to-face interaction. A Dublin professional said the day was important and useful for catching up and organizing a team meeting, but he hoped to continue doing most of his concentrated work at home. Microsoft’s survey showed that the social connections associated with returning to the office were, unsurprisingly, particularly valued by young people. In contrast, those with small children or other family responsibilities are often less likely to return to the office.
Employment experts say giving people a purpose for returning to work is key – to make it worth undertaking the journey again. Team meetings and interaction with colleagues in a pleasant environment are two of these reasons. This can be especially useful for new employees.
3. The two-day/three-day stress point. People have gotten used to working from home over the past two and a half years – so some disagreement over returning to work is inevitable. For now, working arrangements seem to vary from organizations that seek – initially anyway – a return of at least one day a week to those that want to see employees in the office most of the time. In many cases, the pinch point seems to be in the two to three day zone.
A CIPD survey released earlier this year showed that two-thirds of companies had developed hybrid working policies – around a third of employers expect employees to be in the office three days a week and little nearly the same number want them back for two days. Where to land in this debate seems to matter for employees as the return to work progresses – it’s the difference between spending most of the time at work or most of the time at home. The CIPD survey highlights that regardless of surviving the pandemic, a question for employers is whether they have a sustainable infrastructure for long-term hybrid working and whether managers are trained to manage employees remotely.
Interestingly, the CIPD survey also showed a growing awareness among employers of the need to develop policy regarding whether or not employees are required to reside in the state. Some employers offer the possibility of choosing to work part of the year from abroad in order to attract key talent.
4. The week in the middle of the week: Tuesday through Thursday have quickly become the most popular days to be in the office. Traffic appears noticeably lighter on suburban routes on Mondays and Fridays and city center cafes and restaurants report that these days are quieter – turnover is 20% or more lower according to a figure in Dublin’s central office district. In turn, this means that Thursday is the new Friday for office parties or going out for drinks after work.
5. Welcome to the hybrid meeting. We’ve all gotten used to everyone being on Zoom. Now, larger office meetings usually have people in person and others in zoom. This raises new questions – employment expert Caroline Reidy of the HR Suite has warned that chairing – or moderating – such mixed meetings presents new challenges for managers to ensure in particular that those who join distance feel fully involved and don’t feel like they are just watching. Not everyone is on the Covid-19 level playing field of a completely remote meeting anymore.
Reidy also warned of what has come to be known as presenteeism bias — managers favoring employees who are in the office most of the time for a promotion or on plum assignments.
For managers – and employees – hybrid working opens up a whole new era for their interactions. Microsoft research, which also assessed huge amounts of data on the use of its products, indicates that managers don’t need to have the so-called productivity paranoia about people at work. outside the office. Most managers feel that employees working remotely aren’t as productive as they should be, according to research, but employees think otherwise. The use of its products indicates that people were busy on computers and in meetings. However, the research revealed to employees the need for a clear direction on what work to prioritize and what is expected of them, especially when working from home.
Ultimately, we are witnessing a major workplace revolution. In addition to the implications for how many people spend their days, it also has greater significance for downtown economies – which will see less footfall than before the pandemic – and for the commercial real estate market.