RTO? Employees don't think so
Hybrid working is making headlines again, but this time it’s personal.
The clash between CEOs’ desire for a full-time return to the office (RTO) and employees' preference for hybrid work arrangements has been rumbling on ever since we stopped following those little arrows in the supermarket.
But thanks to a study of 1,300 global CEOs by KPMG, the debate just got a whole lot juicier.
In three years’ time, 63% of UK CEOs said they expect people who were office-based before the pandemic to have returned full time. And if you think that’s high, a whopping 90% said they are likely to link financial rewards like bonuses and promotions to office attendance.
But what about the other side? What’s going to work here: the carrot or the stick?
The problem with getting back to normal is that “normal” no longer exists. Thanks to global events, AI, higher levels of poor mental health and a raging cost of living crisis, the past is a foreign country.
And the reality is that if the gulf between what CEOs think is best for business and how employees want to balance their lives gets too big to handle, we’ve got a serious situation in the world of work.
So if as an employer you’ve got a rigid RTO policy in the pipeline, you might want to think again. Here’s a starter for ten:
Is return to work your short-term tactic, or part of your long-term recruitment strategy?
Because while bums on seats might feel good in the short term, the hard truth is that your business might not look so rosy in a few years’ time.
Employees are people. And however beneficial you think presenteeism is from a C-suite point of view, the humans in your office will think otherwise. Crucially, so will the humans who aren’t yet in your office – aka your future candidates.
If the KPMG statistics above had you nodding your head in agreement, how about this for a piece of data: while 63% of CEOs want a full return to the office, 40% of candidates said they’d turn down a job offer if it required them to be in the office full time.
What was that?
Oh, it was just the sound of your talent pool shrinking by 40%.
So how do we navigate this dark divide? Well, first, it’s not a case of working out who’s right and wrong. It’s simply a case of finding a middle ground. Here are a few things to think about that might make you backtrack on a rigid RTO policy:
Productivity isn't chained to a desk
The idea that employees are only productive when sitting at their desks isn’t just dead, it’s six feet under. And before you argue, the data proves it. Studies show that remote and hybrid workers often outperform their in-office counterparts and, most importantly, employees value the autonomy to choose where they work best: home, the office or (gasp) somewhere else entirely.
Top talent requires flexibility
You want top talent? You’ll need to compete with organisations that offer flexible working. Just because you want a firm RTO policy, it doesn’t mean the firm down the road will be doing the same, so to compete you’ll need to relax your approach.
Companies that adapt to employee preferences gain a distinct advantage in both the war for talent and the war for retention. So if you want to recruit the best and brightest, you’ll need to recognise that flexible work arrangements are an investment in the future.
Employee wellbeing is your wellbeing
Sick of hearing that employee wellbeing is paramount? Well, remember that when your people are happy, your bottom line is happy too. If the pandemic underscored the importance of mental health and work-life balance on a personal level, then it also woke us up to the fact that these things matter on a bigger scale.
You can’t achieve anything with a stressed-out workforce.
If reducing staff turnover, minimising absence and preventing employee burnout means anything to your organisation, you’ll think again about enforcing an office return.
Hybrid working puts money in the bank (yours, theirs and the planet’s)
Speaking of the bank balance, hybrid working isn’t just good for theirs, it’s good for yours too. A full-time return to the office comes with increased operational costs for you – think utilities and office space – and added expenses for them (like commuting).
And that’s before we’ve even mentioned sustainability. If you’re serious about your ESG (which, incidentally, most of the CEOs from the KPMG study were), then you know it doesn’t make sense to push full-time office working.
Innovation thrives on diversity
Which brings us to something else CEOs were adamant about: diversity matters. We all know that innovation flourishes in diverse environments, but have you stopped to think how a flexible work model, combining in-person and remote work, brings together employees with different perspectives and backgrounds? This diversity of thought feeds creativity and innovation, driving the company's long-term success.
So if reading this has unclenched you from a rigid RTO policy, how can you make hybrid working work for you as well as your employees?
Here are my top 5:
Open the lines of communication
It sounds obvious, but encourage open dialogue between leadership and employees. Listen to their concerns, gather feedback, and involve them in the decision-making process.
Have flexible policies
Implement flexible work policies that accommodate the needs of both senior leadership and employees. It sounds scary, but allow employees to choose their work arrangements based on their roles and personal circumstances and you’ll be surprised at how empowered they are.
Establish key performance indicators to assess productivity, wellbeing and innovation in your hybrid model. Use data to inform decisions and continuously refine your approach so you know what’s working and why.
Invest in technology
Hybrid working isn’t going away, so invest in technology that facilitates seamless collaboration in communication, regardless of where employees are located. Oh, and ensure that remote and in-person employees have equal access to resources so no one is overlooked.
Create hybrid work spaces
Redesign office spaces to cater to the changing needs of employees. You can think outside the box for this one, creating collaborative hubs where in-person and remote work can really add value.
The future of work lies in finding a balance between your expectations as a CEO and your employees’ preferences. But don’t be in any doubt: the benefits of a flexible, hybrid approach to work are clear.
CEOs who rethink their stance and embrace this shift will position their organisations for long-term success in an ever evolving world of work.