While the pandemic is slowing down and the world appears to be going back to normal, many companies are faced with the dilemma of what ‘normal’ means to them. Do they simply forget about the impact of the last two years and go back to the way things were before, or do they implement a ‘new’ normal going forward?
What started as uncertainty around the transition of moving from the office to working from home during the pandemic, has now grown into a very strong feeling among employees all over the world in favour of working remotely or at the very least, hybrid.
And what’s not to like? The home office offers zero commute times, easier everyday logistics and larger flexibility to choose when to work, and when not to. As the Pandemic now slowly recedes, there is a reluctance to start returning to the office and resuming previous routines on a more regular basis. This, however, does not come without its downsides.
In a recent study that Universum carried out with INSEAD, we looked at the future of work and the potential effects of a hybrid working environment. 70% of the employers we surveyed said that they’re concerned that hybrid work may result in lower levels of social and cultural bonding. However, the study also showed that they are concerned that if they don’t offer remote work, they will lose out on talent.
Alternatively, 63% of the companies feel that remote work will enhance employee wellness. A catch-22 situation and as many companies have already discovered, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to it.
I am going to be honest with my personal view – I don’t think that a strong emphasis on working remotely will benefit most organizations or professional roles. There are of course certain organizations or specific roles that are exceptions, or where there are no options to remote work. A certain level of natural flexibility to handle everyday situations is also generally beneficial to all parties. But this is not about those cases.
After two years of the pandemic and remote work, there are several aspects of our day-to-day work lives that I feel have suffered from the lack of interpersonal meetings. Among them are essential components for organizational excellence, such as trust, the feeling of belonging to a group, cross-team interaction and culture building. The truth is, it is very difficult to replicate everyday office interaction when it comes to relating and communicating with your colleagues.
Additionally, matters such as work-life balance are being impacted in negative ways. For some working remote means, endless working days without any clear border to separate the part of the day meant for recreation and rest. For others, it means challenges in measuring how much a full day of work is. This is especially true for those with limited experience of previous work life prior to the pandemic. The office routines and the collective rhythm would balance between individuals, but when everyone is remote it may lead to inequality, work overload and eventually increasing resignations.
Throughout history, the art of learning a trade has almost always meant being close to those who have experienced the execution of the craft. And this need has not changed. Skills more easily conveyed at the office include professionalism and all its different meanings in terms of behaviour. And so does creativity, which typically means blending impressions and perspectives and trying new ways. These kinds of activities and thereby training is simply better performed in the physical presence of your peers, and in a professional context.
Remote work will likely stay as a benefit offered by employers, by request and for the benefit of employees’ desires and wellness. But ultimately it is my belief that it will not necessarily be for the benefit of the organization, and in the long run, it will come at a cost.
I realize that I have all the intricacies of a traditionalist in this matter. And maybe I’ll be proven wrong in a few years. But I don’t think I will be.