London law firm, Stephenson Harwood, recently announced that it would allow staff to continue to work from home full-time post-pandemic, but only if they agreed to a pay cut of 20% less than their current salary. The company reasoned that the lower pay package reflects the lower cost of not commuting into London. They also said that remote workers could claim travel expenses if they did need to come into the office.
In the same week, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP wrote to fellow cabinet ministers encouraging them to urge staff in their departments to return to the office. He then visited desks in the Cabinet Office leaving printed cards on empty desks. The notes said: “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon”. The notes were labelled passive aggressive by many civil servants and have been widely criticised by unions.
Both Stephenson Harwood and Jacob Rees-Mogg have both said that they want their staff to realise the benefits of face-to-face working. There are, undeniably, many pros to working from an office. Opportunities for collaboration, learning and embracing company culture are much more abundant when people come together.
But we can’t pretend that the world hasn’t changed. After two years of homeworking, we know how to perform our job roles effectively outside the office. And there are many benefits to homeworking too, such as an improved work/life balance and opportunities for focused work.
For many companies, forcing staff back into the office – or penalising those that do choose to work from home – just won’t work. We’ve had a taste of a new way of working and we don’t want to give it up.
Making office working compulsory will only breed resentment. We’ve seen that, in the majority of cases, homeworking can work for companies and people. To feel pressured into stopping it now just won’t make sense to workers after two years of doing it successfully. It will also affect company culture. At Apple, mandatory office working for three days a week is already causing friction. In an open letter, Apple employees point out how the company sells products to support remote work yet doesn’t allow its staff to truly work flexibly. For a company that prides itself on being innovative and forward-thinking, its approach to hybrid-working feels at odds.
Perhaps the most damning part of the Apple letter is the impact staff say the homeworking policy will have on the make-up of its workforce and future recruitment. They argue it will make Apple “younger, whiter, more male-dominated, more neuro-normative, [and] more able-bodied”. It will also “lead to privileges deciding who can work for Apple, not who’d be the best fit.” It’s hard to argue that re-introducing a commute into the office will negatively impact some employees more than others. It will also certainly influence jobseekers as they look for new roles – leaving non-hybrid businesses with a much smaller talent pool.
As we mentioned above, there are so many benefits to in-person working and for some companies no face-to-face time for employees just won’t work. But rather than forcing staff to come in, businesses should focus on doing the things that will make staff want to come into the office – and support them to do so.
Yes, we’re biased, but we really do believe a great office design can help with this. Instead of ‘a space to do work’ why not think about your office as a culture hub. A place to meet each other, collaborate, learn and develop. If your office offers something your employees simply don’t have or can’t get at home, they’ll want to come in. We’re really proud that we’ve delivered projects for many companies that create working environments that their staff really want to spend time in.
Ultimately, it comes down to choice. We’re all individuals with different working preferences, so any decision to enforce a particular practice will always have the potential to isolate someone. So why not ‘double-down’ on choice and let your teams decide what works best for them? If this won’t work for your company, speak to your employees and be honest about the reasons why. Listen to how you can better support them to work from the office. Either way, you can provide a great office space to enjoy when they do come in!