Does remote working help or harm company culture?

Can a company really attract and keep talent in a fully in-office model?

Does remote working help or harm company culture?

It’s now become normal for employees to demand working from home. In fact, it’s pretty rare to see a job advertisement requiring full-time commitment to the office. Most employees won’t agree to those terms and even companies around the world attempting to enforce that mandate are facing stiff resistance and resignations. But not every company benefits from people working externally. Having people within earshot allows for impromptu discussions that can alleviate problems quickly, which might be missed on a Teams call.

It can also lead to more efficient workflow when teamwork is required to complete a task. Valuable time can be lost trying to schedule another Zoom/Teams call and/or getting people together at the same time.

“For delicate or critical issues, in-person is always preferred,” Roxanne Calder, founder and managing director of EST10, said. “It allows for other forms of communication to take place, such as body language, and thus a higher likelihood of a positive outcome. There are many sensitive topics and emotions that people experience in everyday situations. These expressions and communications usually come spontaneously, a sigh, hug or smile. Even sitting together in silence is not something you experience online. 'Human touch' does heal and comfort, which will never change.”

Personal interaction vs online innovation

A work colleague may be unsure of an issue and rather than call a meeting via a technological platform, they could simply walk up to a fellow employee and quickly run the issue past them. There and then the problem could be solved and the workflow continues only with a small hiccup. The same scenario could drag out for a day with everyone working remotely depending upon their availability. Trying to co-ordinate diaries with school runs, medical appointments and scheduled lunch breaks, means workflow is constantly interrupted and slows down productivity.

“Businesses must be in control of their direction and destiny. Remote work can only be in play if it works for your business,” Calder added.

“The other critical consideration due to COVID-19 is the concerns people have for their health and sense of mortality. It's deeply embedded in our psyche, and flexibility at work not only caters for this but is seen as a prerogative. Push back on working remotely only if it doesn't work for your business; otherwise, find a way for it to work for you as well.”

Can I attract new hires with an in-office set up?

Therein is a major concern for businesses with a record low unemployment rate – it is hard to force employees, contract or otherwise – to do something that they don’t want to do.

With COVID still having a major influence on our health, forcing people to mingle with each other in close proximity is not an easy task.

“The reality is that the majority of the workforce no longer desires to be in the office full-time,” Calder said. “It's futile to go against such a strong current. Instead, go with it and manage within the boundaries and requirements of your business. There are enticements, but they need to be aligned with the business culture and values.

“Monetary incentives are big drawcards now, but I would warn against having that as the sole attraction- there has to be 'more', i.e. building strong relationships – that is what will always be the link to authentic engagement and workforce participation.”

What happens if the economy turns?

One fillip for businesses is that if inflation and interest rates continue to rise, it will dampen spending both on a company and individual level. This will force people to be more frugal with their budgets, which will impact upon the consumer spending spiral. Ultimately, the unemployment rate will rise as businesses cut back on expanding.

“Certainly, if the economy falters, we see interest rates continue to rise, I expect our unemployment rate also to increase, but don’t be lulled into a false sense of reality and the perception of power, for that matter,” Calder added. “The skills shortage had been in place well before COVID, and in 2017 our unemployment rate was 5.59%, and we still suffered from a dearth supply of human talent. The increased use of technology to help organisations remain productive will likely see that 'power' shift also occur.

“There are always power shifts; nothing stays static. When it comes to power over labour and employment, yes, the employee has more power to negotiate and bargain than before. But the real power sits in the ability to influence and change how businesses function. We shouldn't confuse higher salaries and perks as a power.”

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