Several companies now backtracking on flexible working

As the labour market evolves, more and more bosses are now asking their workers to return to the office as these temporary remote arrangements no longer stand. The tech slowdown and looming economic instability have meant retention may no longer be a top priority, particularly amid job cuts.

flexible working

Changes in flexible working

Will this mark a permanent return to in person working?

Hybrid arrangements, where workers go into the office part of the week, have gained broad acceptance as a compromise over the last few years, but many workers are holding out, even as some companies now demand full-time return.

In January Disney CEO Bob Iger sent a memo to his employees. The company had been allowing its employees to work from home twice a week at times of high demand for a work-life balance and remote culture.

Bob Iger said that the company was now reversing course and that staff would now have to return for four days a week starting from March.

With companies like Twitter, KPMG and Starbucks now shying away from the flexibility within the workplace, it does seem that things are eventually reverting back to pre-pandemic days.

David Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, was always keen to get his 60,000 employees back to the workplace ASAP. In a Bloomberg Television interview, he stated, “I certainly would expect a lot of Goldman Sachs employees back in full by the end of the year.” 

Whilst the flexible arrangement has in some cases improved performance, helped reduce burnout and boost work life balance, there seems to be a mismatch between what the workers and employer want.

Short term solution

The pandemic has had a huge impact on the role of the office, with so many employees switching to home working and adapting well to the remote environment. Overall, this change has been positive for many of companies.

While companies could save on real estate, hybrid work could come with other costs – from worries about lost productivity and collaboration to mentoring and the organisation’s culture.

The return – the benefits

So, what benefits do offices/workplaces provide to businesses and employees, and why is returning to the office now being seen again as a possible.

  • Productivity: employees can get more done in their day and focus on their work by avoiding the many potential distractions at home.
  • Collaboration: Workers who are physically able to see and talk to each other face to face will find it easier to streamline their communications. They bounce off each other and come up with new ideas.
  • Socialisation: Bringing them back to the office keeps them engaged and connected with their own team and workforce.
  • Coordination: Office-based work helps teams stay functional and aligned with the work of others.
  • Health and wellbeing: You can not only safeguard employees’ physical health but also improve their mental health by giving them the confidence that they can return to work safely.

Gaining the upper hand

Workers have for a while had the upper hand when it comes down to bargaining for flexible working.

But as we are in the time of market crisis and as companies axe jobs on a wider scale, the power dynamic is swaying back into the hands of the employers. In fact many are using this opportunity to enforce or overhaul their working practices.

For the many affected workers, their fears of recession and layoffs mean many will have to return to the office.

Before the pandemic you were privileged to work remotely as it was generally reserved for the workers who had a very specific job or special arrangement.

Flexible intentional working

Employers are now aware that many employees will be unhappy about these changes with some now branding “Flexible, intentional working” instead of the phrase ‘return to work’.

In person interaction

Companies are now seeing that elements of in-person interaction have been lost during the pandemic and the return to the office is a way of getting some of this back.

For companies that now demanding workers return to the office, they could now end up losing some of their top talent. For management at least, the benefits could outweigh the risks ahead. Some companies are willing to spend more time and resources getting employees back in the workplace more regularly or find new workers.

Final thoughts

Although more and more organisations are pulling their work in, we will still see a high number of remote workers than we saw before the pandemic.

It will certainly be interesting over the course of the year to see how this trend evolves and whether companies are more innovative when their workers are all in the same place.

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