Wednesday, 09.09.2020

Home Office - a benefit that has become a new reality

        Covid-19 pandemic caused that working from home was a surprise for many companies while for others it accelerated the trend that had already been visible for some time. If it were not for the coronavirus, the popularity of working from home would be gradually growing anyhow over the next years be it under the pressure of the demands from the young, mobile generation or those of global digitization. Just before the pandemic, the research done among others by PwC has shown that 70% of millenials want to be able to choose where they will perform their professional duties. It was one of the key benefits. During lockdown, the home office was an obligation, not a choice, though. However, workers do want flexibility, the possibility to choose to work from home or from the office, rather than orders and prohibitions that restrict their right to freedom. Employers, on the other hand, usually want the team to be together, they feel more comfortable if they supervise the work in the office. Both sides are right, and reality shows that many employers and employees are not ready for the new reality.

        Just a year ago, in 2019, in the European Union, only about 5 percent of the EU's employees aged 15-64 usually worked from home. Most often it was the inhabitants of Scandinavia and the Netherlands, Poland and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe lagging behind in the ranks. Today we are faced with a new reality and the percentage of people working in this way has increased significantly, chiefly due to the pandemic. Still, the home office is typically available for a selected group of specialists and managers. Therefore, 2020 should not be seen as the twilight of office work, but rather the beginning of greater opportunities to choose where to work from. For managers who need to supervise remotely this is also a new situation to which they have to adapt.

        Some of you will certainly remember the decision of the former President of Yahoo - Marissa Mayer – taken in 2013 to ban home working. The information caused a stir not only inside the company among the nerds accustomed to home office, but also in the business community and was criticized, among others, by Richard Branson himself who spoke of violating the freedom of choice. During a press conference, however, M. Mayer tried to explain her intentions by emphasizing that this decision aimed to build a culture of cooperation in Yahoo. Mayer wasn't against  home office, but she thought that at the time this option wasn't for Yahoos - the employees of the company she managed. However, she herself admitted that productivity is higher for those working independently. Interestingly, home office has survived in the company, and to this very day, even after its acquisition by Verizon (2017), the option of choosing such a mode of working is one of the employee benefits.

        Since 2013, however, a lot has changed. We now have a number of home office tools that make home office and teamwork easier. It is not only the Millennials who expect their employer to give them such opportunities. Most office workers want to choose where to work from. Research conducted by Global Workplace Analytics (March/April 2020) shows that up to 90% of office workers around the world would like half of their duties to be performed from home. The Remote Work Efficiency Index was calculated at 68%, which can be considered a success. As far as the sense of cooperation is concerned, as much as 64% of the respondents stated that it is at a high level. On the other hand, the study shows that office meetings are even more conducive to teamwork, mentoring and management. But the best, creative ideas, according to the respondents, are created at home (80% vs. 63% selecting the office).

        Offices will still be a key place for work, business meetings, creative brainstorming or small talk over coffee or in the hallway. For organizations who did not allow the thought of sending staff to home office (or only sometimes made exceptions), this is a revolution that requires them to be more adaptable in their attitude. Studies indicate that before the pandemic, about 31% of employees could use home office at least once a week; in the post-Covid reality it is forecast that as much as 76% of employees will use the option at least once a week. Mark Zuckerberg believes that within a decade half of the Facebook team will be working remotely.

        Managers feel less in control when supervising work outside the office. Many of them do not feel confident and comfortable in this role. It turns out that male managers make such objections more frequently than female ones. Certainly, this model of work is not suited for all positions, but it can be a solution for many office jobs.

        The pros and cons of home office is a separate topic for a separate post. Today, however, we know that most employees want to continue to use the option of working from home and thus have a sense of freedom of choice. However, let's not forget about employers who also have the right to choose and decide how they want to build a working culture in their organizations. It is them who know the specifics of the company and the stage of its development. The decision of former President Yahoo in 2013 may have been correct at that point in time, as the Washington Post later wrote, ascribing the abuse to . . . employees (among others entering a false number of hours worked).

        We will most probably have to face a "hybrid work model" in the following months, some of the tasks will be performed from home and some from the office. In a pandemic, for most companies it is an obligation, not a choice. However, remote work does not have to mean working without control and in many cases it proves to be more productive. Let us remember, however, that developing an effective hybrid model of work is a proces which first of all requires a change of thinking and mentality. The better we adapt to the new normality, the faster we will see tangible results.

Paulina Łączek-Ciećwierz, President of the Board at RICG