HR take note: Employee demand for flexibility is not going away, even if the virus does
Over the past year, there have been more than a few surveys about working from home.
From the start of the pandemic, people who were able to do their job remotely expressed gratitude for the privilege.
And to many employers’ consternation, I’m sure, that preference has not really dissipated. Yes, there are a lot of people who are keen to get back to the office, to reconnect with colleagues, to get back to brainstorming at meetings and soaking up the energy of the office.
But there are still a heck of a lot of people who want to stay home. They’ve come to truly appreciate the mental health boost of not having to commute, of working in pyjamas and taking the dog for a walk at lunch, and working without the unexpected interruptions that come with an office. They’ve also seen the boost to their bank accounts in not having to pay for transit or buy costly downtown lunches or dressy office attire.
Even parents with young children, challenged by the online learning and childcare demands, say they largely prefer the at-home work environment.
As further proof, a recent survey by Robert Half found that one in three (33 per cent) employees currently working from home would quit their job if forced to return to the workplace full time.
And more than six in 10 (63 per cent) employees say that if they were to change jobs, they would only accept a role that offered flexible or remote working positions, according to a separate survey by Citrix.
Of course, these are just surveys. People will say all kinds of things when offered enticing options: “Will you switch jobs for more pay?” “Sure!” “Will you confront sexism at work when you see it?” “Absolutely!”
But when it’s a real situation: “Will you quit your job if your employer insists you come back to work?” the answer could be less definite.
Does that mean employers should demand people return to their hallowed halls? If and when this virus and its multiplying variants are finally subdued enough for society to enjoy relative freedoms, and offices can go open their doors and dust off their desks, will staff be expected back to “business as usual”?
Realtors have to be offering some pretty sweet rates on real estate to entice employers back. And while many organizations could be functioning impressively well despite having such a spread-out workforce, there has to be a strong desire to get staff back to generate the many benefits of buzzing workplace.
But if employers care at all about employee engagement, employee retention, employee morale, the employee experience — along with the high costs of recruitment and onboarding and training new employees — and any other metrics they use, they’ll be smart and take a more restrained position. It would appear the desire to work from home is not going away, even if the virus does.
And is there really any harm to allowing greater flexibility? After a miserable year that is far from over, the news that their employer will adopt a whole new hybrid model of work where people split time between home and office will go over really well with a lot of employees.
Yes, there are big challenges when it comes to areas such as scheduling, team-building, training initiatives and meetings, along with having a trusting leadership that truly believes people are working at home and not slacking off.
But HR can handle it — it’s done amazingly throughout the pandemic and will continue to impress in the post-pandemic “return to work.”