Meta has announced a 3-day in the office work rule from September, after 3 years of being a self-labelled leader in remote working, the global giant is insisting on its office-based workers being back in the office. It does stink a lot of autocratic leadership.
Part of me celebrates being in the office, delivering in-person work and collaborating with peers in the same room. There are huge benefits to this type of work. However, if you’re spending more hours commuting to work from a place where you’re on back-to-back virtual calls, surely, it’s better to avoid the stress and time taken to commute?
What is the benefit of being in the office vs working remotely?
There are some roles that call for in-person activity more than others. Some tasks are best performed in a room together, some are better isolated. Some people prefer to work from the office and enjoy getting out of their house. Others prefer to work at home and perhaps are not able to easily commute to their office.
The global pandemic has opened many people’s eyes to the art of the possible when it comes to remote working. Not only how they work but also when they are at their best and what environment supports this. Technology advancements enabled more people to work remotely than ever before.
Ironically, I have observed traditional industries like Financial Services, be more adaptable and accepting of working remotely than ever before. Many years ago, when I was about to go on maternity leave, I had to get Board approval to work from home in my final few working weeks when I was able and wanted to continue to work but the commute was getting unbearable (anyone who has caught the Waterloo and City line will understand why this commute at 9 months pregnant was intolerable!). How the tide has shifted, most of my FS clients now are embracing regular remote working and are reaping the benefits of this.
What can you do if you’re being forced back into the office?
Legally, there is little that can be done if you’re contracted from a specific office location, technically you are office based and this hasn’t changed. You have an option to lodge a formal flexible working request, there is no obligation from your employer to agree to it but most reasonable employers will agree to this.
Another option is to ask for an informal arrangement within your team. It is advisable to agree a trial period of at least 3 months, this way you and your team can see what works and what doesn’t work. Once you agree an arrangement that works for everyone, you might wish to formalise it via the flexible work request application (although flexible working applications can only be requested every 12 months which is why I would advise informal arrangements initially).
Unfortunately, my supposition is that companies are relying on people resigning knowing that certain individuals don’t want to or are unable to commit to returning to the office for a set number of days per week.
For some of you, you might feel like the only option is to resign. It’s always worth having a conversation with your manager about your circumstances to see what they’re willing to trial. In my experience, the more flexible you can be the better. For example, if you can only commit to being in the office 2 days a week, can you offer to be flexible on which 2 days they are? So, if there is a team session on a Wednesday one week and you usually work from home that day, can you switch your day at home and make sure you’re committing to the team as much as they’re committing to you?
As a business make it clear why you’re insisting on people being in the office
On the surface, it appears that many Execs are demanding a set number of days working in the office because they don’t trust their teams, or they have seen a decline in performance and overall revenue. Obviously, this might be a true reflection, or it could just be a sign of the overall unstable economy and political environment. Either way, giving people very clear explanations for why they need to be in the office on a set number of days each week, will aid engagement and encourage more people to make the commute.
Creating more collaborative spaces and rooms where meetings can take place (rather than everyone sitting at their desk with headsets on all day) will improve the office experience for everyone. It’s not worth continuing to work in the same way in the office as you do remotely, the office needs to signify something different so that people really embrace the office for what it is – and not leave the office each day resenting their efforts to leave the comfort of their own home.
I am all for flexibility and I am also a huge fan of in-person meetings, the energy in the room is always completely different to sitting on a virtual call (especially when Wi-Fi isn’t working well!). However, the two can co-exist when there’s a compelling reason combined with adult behaviours and trust and it’s not just to be in the office for the sake of it.