TECH TALK: Those firms resisting the work from home trend could be the big losers, says BILL MAGEE
“Strategy should evolve out of the mud of the marketplace, not in the antiseptic environment of an ivory tower” – Al Ries, marketing guru and author “11 Immutable Laws of Branding on the Net”
“Policies that emerge from ivory towers often have an adverse effect on the people out in the field…bringing in the revenues” – Colin Powell, 65th US Secretary of State
Accountancy giant Deloitte, like many other big organisations, has informed its entire 20,000-strong UK staff that even when the pandemic is over they can work from home permanently. Chief executive Richard Houston says the last year has shown “one size does not fit all” when it comes to balancing work and personal lives. Google, American Express and Unilever, are also allowing their people to work at least part of the week out of the office.
Not all company leaders share this view. Morgan Stanley chief executive James Gorman sent a strong message to staff in the US who are reluctant to return to their desks, saying, “If you can go into a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office. If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York.” He’s not alone in expecting his firm’s offices to be “back to normal”. JPMorgan Chase & Co gave its staff a July deadline to be back at their desks.
There is clearly a gulf in opinion, but those resisting the work from home trend may find themselves out of touch with the shift in global attitudes to work and to the growing ability of the internet and mobile channels to fill creative gaps and maintain productivity of staff who choose to work remotely.
According to Tradingplatforms.com there has been a 93% surge in the use of Microsoft Teams videoconferencing in April alone compared with the same month a year ago and McKinsey & Company maintains the pandemic has accelerated how leaders across industries are learning the lessons from the enforced work from home experiment, by utilising an array of e-tools and flexible working practices.
Conventional wisdom before the virus was that the office was critical to productivity, culture and winning the war on talent. Companies competed intensely for prime office space in major urban areas, especially in city centres.
Lockdown, according to estimates, has seen almost two-thirds of employees work at home, although this has not been an overnight trend. Those who think WFH has been a recent phenomenon need reminding that before the pandemic a quarter of the workforce were working remotely. To that extent, home working is not so much a revolution as a wider adoption of what has been the norm for many thousands of workers.
What has surprised the more enlightened business leader is how quickly and effectively technologies for videoconferencing and other forms of digital collaboration have taken off, not only driven by the rapid adoption of available technology, but because – according to McKinsey research – 80% of employees say they enjoy working from home and being liberated from long commutes. As well as being able to work equally efficiently from their kitchen table, it’s also a lifestyle choice.
Organisations, already seeing significantly reduced office lease and rental costs, are seeing wider benefits, realising they can access new pools of talent with fewer locational constraints.
This is one big change that is working to the advantage of both employer and employee. Geraldine Higgins from Flexibility Works told a Scottish Business Gateway webinar that a pre-Covid YouGov poll revealed that 75% of workers in Scotland either had, or wanted, flexible working. Even so, there was a significant level of uncertainty over the benefits. Now, 90% of those who work flexibly say it has had a positive effect on their wellbeing.
Evidence from the past year suggests the changes to office work patterns are permanent. Those inflexible C-suite directors continuing to resist change may have much to lose by refusing to adapt to the demands of tech-enabled workers who no longer want or need to be tied to their desks.
Time to get that hybrid-workforce internal communications strategic programme up and running..