The Great Divide

Old school vs new school in the remote working battle

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One thing is for certain. COVID-19 has caused a lot of conversations, thoughts and at least a temporary shift in mind set around the question of where’s best to work. However, it seems that a bigger divide than ever before might be about to open up in the remote working battle that has been raging on for many years. 

Remote working: Can employees work from home effectively on a long term/permanent basis? 

recent article from the BBC talks about BP, who has announced that office-based staff will be expected to work a minimum of two days a week at home after the lockdown restrictions end. BP joins a growing list of companies who over the last 6 months have announced that employees will continue to work at least some of the week from home. Google were the first to announce that they planned to test a hybrid work week with staff being able to work from home 3 days a week, and similarly Lloyd’s Banking Group is another big name to follow suit. 

Of course, what this means is that in most cases employees are given the freedom to chose whether they want to be in the office, have that flexibility of where to work and chose their own work/life balance. Many people have had their eyes opened during the lockdown to the possibility of ‘another life’. No commuting; lunchtime walks; more time with family etc. All with the ability to do their job effectively.  

But there is a second side to home workers, one for the businesses. It gives companies the chance to reduce office space and implement a hot desk system. Office space, especially in major conurbations like London is one of the biggest overheads a company must deal with. The amount of space per worker in an office has steadily been reducing, the big corner office with fancy desk and sofa being replaced by open working environments with banks of desks for all. With the ability to have less staff in on a regular basis, companies like Lloyds Banking Group will be able to reduce office space by 20%, whilst HSBC plans to reduce by 40%. A huge cost saving for both of them 

So surely this is a win-win for companies? Reduce overheads and make staff happier. 

Not everyone agrees. There are still plenty of companies that believe employees must be in the office to optimise collaboration and culture. Jes Staley Chief Executive at Barclays is quoted as saying that working from home was “not sustainable” and Chairman and Chief Executive of Goldman Sachs David Solomon called it an “aberration”.  

A further article by the BBC talks about people being fatigued from the working from home experience trying to work and home school, but without the commute to switch on and off. Working in a city means that “people are really missing that opportunity to collaborate with and just see their friends in the office, to get your hair cut, to go and get a good coffee at lunchtime, and to do all the life admin things you can do.” said Howard Dawber, Head of Strategy at Canary Wharf Group. 

However, with home schooling now over, the hope of leisure and hospitality reopening soon, and the summer, could the stress of flexibly working from home vanish it becomes enjoyable again? Is it true that people cannot collaborate and the culture not thrive if employees are not in the office every day? Does it come back round to the issue of trust – if I cannot see you, you are not working? 

Employee satisfaction and technology

Time will tell over the next few years. Employing the best staff and retaining them has been shifting so that now flexible working is deemed equal or more important to employee satisfaction over pay, and we may find that it has just been boosted further in that direction.  

We’re all proven that the technology is available for employees to work remotely. The question is, will we be allowed to use it?