The working from home debate is still not settled

Person in office in online meeting

The future of work is a topic that will continue to evolve, and it's clear that the differing views on remote work versus in-office by organisations and individuals alike mean that there won't be a one size fits all approach.

While major tech companies like X, Atlassian, and Airbnb have previously made headlines with their announcements regarding remote working in the past, many businesses have found a compromise in the form of a flexible, hybrid-working model.

This model recognises the diverse needs of both employers and employees and allows for a more adaptable and inclusive work environment.

Here are some key considerations for companies as they navigate their flexible work policies:

Understand your business and employee needs

While the last few years of a candidate-driven market saw organisations re-evaluate their Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to appeal to a greater network of talent, there was an increase in the opportunity for employees to either work remote or in a hybrid model. As the market conditions now shift and job opportunities are reduced, it is yet to be seen whether more organisations will draw the line on the amount of time (if any) that employees can work from home, although there seems to be a growing tide to do so. 

Data from the Roy Morgan Pulse of the Nation Survey showed that workers in Australia want and expect hybrid working. The report showed that workers and employers only agree 37% of the time on the number of hours spent working from home, and this has been constant for the past two years. Many organisations offer hybrid working as part of their EVP in order to attract top talent, and continue to keep their finger on the pulse of ever-evolving employee needs into the future.

It's important that you assess the unique needs of your business as well as the sentiment of employees within your organisations, to find an approach that works best for your circumstances to reduce any gap in expectations.

The productivity debate

There’s no clear answer yet on whether working from home is better or worse for productivity. For every reputable study that reports remote workers are more productive, there is another that warns that remote working leads to less productivity than office-based employment. 

It's important to understand that everyone is different. For example, extroverts are more energised whilst at work around people and may struggle to remain productive when working alone. Some people work best when they are closely managed, while others thrive when provided with autonomy and trust. For many workers, flexible hours provide the chance to shift their workload into timeslots during which they are most productive, such as early in the morning or late at night when their kids are asleep.

Supporters of office-based work also point out the importance of face-to-face time with colleagues for collaboration and idea sharing, in-person mentoring for young people and incidental learning that comes from observing more senior team members, as well as building a positive culture through social activities. However, an ever-growing number of remote collaboration technology tools are available to make just about anything possible remotely, from team activities to wellbeing initiatives.

Hybrid working models offer balance

Alan Claire, Senior Manager, Engineering and Operations at Six Degrees Executive, says the relationships he built online during lockdown felt superficial.

“They just didn’t feel real”, he said. “It was only when the lockdown ended and I was able to meet my colleagues face to face and share some time together, that I really felt like I was becoming part of the team. So, now that we have the choice, I guess I would have to say that based on my experience there is a need for people to meet in an office environment … but also having focus time away from the office is also a great benefit.

“Here at Six Degrees, we are blessed to have a lot of very experienced consultants and leaders. Just by being in the room and hearing how they tackle difficult conversations with clients and candidates really accelerates your learning. Being in a room full of energy and enthusiasm helps you to maintain your own positive energy and momentum. On the flip side, I still value the focus time that working from home allows as our jobs require us to spend time researching, sourcing and interviewing. All of these tasks are better in peace and quiet. So for me, hybrid is definitely the way forward as long as you understand the learning opportunities that you forgo by not being around your peers and learning by osmosis.”

Lauren Madden, Manager, For-Purpose & Communications Practice at Six Degrees, says her team predominantly works around a 3/2 day split (onsite vs remote):

“This empowers them to manage their time around specific tasks, as well as maintaining a connectedness with the team and the broader business,” says Lauren. “We’ve established a good rhythm of remote and face-to-face connection times using the technology channels or physical space available to us. We are often in together on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the specific days are by no means compulsory. Members of the team have commented that they feel more empowered, trusted and productive. All and all, I’ve found hybrid to be the perfect model for us.”

Remote onboarding

Used intelligently, technology has a critical role to play in improving the onboarding journey for remote employees. Six Degrees Executives’ Business Analyst, Henry Smith, was tasked with creating flexible ways of working to ensure new starters are engaged and comfortable.

“The idea was to leverage technology to create a collaborative and seamless onboarding process where as soon as new starters sign the contract, they are immediately taken on the onboarding journey,” explains Henry. “We created multiple automations that are triggered at various touch points of the onboarding journey that allow us to engage and communicate as much as possible with our new starter before they enter our doors or log on online. The aim is to provide a tailored onboarding journey which enables consistency and stability and promote the ability to work from home.

“We also built an online Learning portal that allows employees to learn and collaborate with their colleague either at home or in the office. The idea is to leverage technology to encourage training, productivity, mobility, and collaboration,” he says. “Having automations at various touch point of the onboarding journey means that the right people are connecting with our new starter at the right time.”

Lauren has onboarded team members in the hybrid model, some being fully remote in the past.

“In the early days it was an adjustment,” she admits. “I was particularly conscious of meeting the learning style needs of each individual, ensuring I was adapting to how that could be positively or negatively impacted through remote learning. Ultimately, I found it comes down to preparation, planning and being quite purposeful around creating an ecosystem of support through content, tools, technology and people. Technology enablement and up-to-date training resources have been key for both the trainer/manager and new starter to ensure they are both set up for success.”

Lauren recommends regular check-ins each day in the first couple of weeks before moving to weekly meetings as they settle in to allow space for each individual to feel comfortable to raise any concerns with their learning journey.

Mental health, trust, and belonging

Hybrid working policies are about offering choice and finding the right balance for individuals and the organisations performance and goals. 

According to Six Degrees Executives’ Head of People and Culture, Alexandra Matthews, the ability to trust one’s team is the number-one attribute of remote managers.

“Learn to step back,” she wrote. “Remote environments can be particularly challenging for micromanagers. Asking to review every communication or phoning workers to check in several times a day wastes time and fails to build trust. Managing people on outcomes rather than hours in front of the screen will build more trust and satisfaction for everyone.”

Employers need to foster a sense of belonging to ensure that the team culture does not suffer due to remote working. This can be achieved by making time for human connection, focusing on motivation, reward and recognition (with the help of technology), listening to team ideas and feedback, and setting aside special days for the team to come together face-to-face, such as an annual conference.

While the working from home debate may not be settled any time soon, all signs point to hybrid working as a positive compromise in the near to mid-term.

Stay flexible, be prepared for future disruptions (such as a dramatic technological shift or economic conditions changing), and remember that there’s no one-sized fits all approach. Listen to your team to discover the framework that will work best for your unique business.

Reach out to our team of recruitment experts to discuss market insights in your industry and your potential hiring needs. 

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