Workers are gradually making their way back into their offices in Australia’s Central Business Districts as the pandemic lockout restrictions lift, but not everyone is happy about it.
The experience of working from home during the lockdowns has brought some fundamental changes to the nature of work. It is now emerging that workers and employees see the future very differently.
A Boston Consulting Group report released last week shows that there is a “clear expectation gap between employee desires and the working models envisaged by their employers.”
Both groups agree that the future of work will be a hybrid model where people spend some time in the office and some time working remotely. The sticking point appears to be striking the right balance.
Gaping expectation gap
According to the BCG report, around two thirds — or 63% — of employees want a hybrid model which mixes office and home, working from home between one and four days per week, employers.
From employees, the verdict is clear: more remote working, please.
According to BCG, the number of searches for remote work on LinkedIn has grown by 60% since March 2020.
While employers think one-third of employees who can work remotely will be back full-time in the office, only 15% of workers are on board with this.
Addressing this expectation gap, BCG’s Australian managing director and partner Chris Mattey says the trend divides employers.
Some are happy to accommodate the desire for remote working, even though it presents challenges. Others are more focused on returning to the kind of working arrangements they had pre-lockdown.
Those who want to return to the old ways, he says, are concerned with productivity and believe employees are most productive when they are together collaborating in the office.
“There are certain activities which are better done co-located and working together,” Mattey told ABC Radio.
“If you have new teams forming, or if you have project work to be done, that often helps to be co-located. And then there is plenty of work where it helps to be working remotely or from home, and there is no historical link between facetime in the office and productivity anyway.”
The upshot of this divide, he says, is that the employer approach to the hybrid model is set to become a differentiator in attracting and retaining talent.
For employers, Mattey says, the critical factor is trust. Many are concerned that employees are not working hard enough if they cannot be seen, and that suspicion has spawned a trend for surveillance, which also threatens to break workplace trust.
New ways need to be developed that measure productivity in a world of hybrid working to build that trust.
Workplace purpose difference
The BCG report also highlights changing the changing attitude to the function of the workplace.
In the hybrid world, the office is not just where work is done. It is also where colleagues connect.
To this end, employers see the workplace as more for collaboration and also a social one where connections are strengthened.
Once again, there is a divide from some employer attitudes. Many still see the workplace as a venue for churning out work. If there is any group activity, it is around meetings and training and not focused on culture.
In his report, Mattey says that we are now entering a new wave of change in the employer-employee relationship as offices re-open.
“It’s only just begun, but it’s already clear that employers are behind the eight ball,” he says.
“Among senior leaders, there is concern about ‘cultural decay’ in their organizations and a decline in employee engagement. Employees, on the other hand, face increasing mental health challenges. They are working longer hours and missing social interaction with their colleagues.”
Employers, says Mattey, should look at this period as an opportunity to get things right for their businesses and their people.
“It’s a challenge they must meet to stay relevant, to meet their obligations and responsibilities as an employer to look after their people and to create a source of competitive advantage in the race to attract and retain the best talent,” he says.
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