Working from Home (WFH) is here to stay. How is your organisation responding to that?
Leafing through the FT in the summer sunshine this weekend we came across an article prompted by a dinner the author had recently been at with some leading CEOs in the US. To her surprise the most emotive topic that emerged in the conversations was around working from home. These CEOs, it seems, are not a fan of the concept and very much aspire to a rapid return to what they see as “business as usual”.
Perhaps they need to be careful. Another story currently circulating concerns the account of a mid level manager at an IT company who had to communicate a ruling from their boss that the companies working from home policy would soon be ending with a complete return to the office. Within the next few days approximately 45% of their team resigned, in most cases to take up jobs with competitors who had enthusiastically embraced working from home and the improvements in morale, wellbeing and productivity it had clearly delivered.
In both these cases the divisions between a workforce enthusiastically embracing working from home and leadership teams with disdain for the practice seem in some ways to be based on misunderstandings and cultural differences between the two groups.
Impact on career development
The US CEOs enthusiasm for office only working seems in part rooted in their own career development having been entirely office based. Along with an inability to understand how their more digitally native employees are able to achieve goals that they perceive to be only achievable in an office, such as mentoring and self development, by using digital channels and practices.
The manager watching his employees depart to his competitors had to have the everyday benefits of home working explained to them and seemed to have not considered how the extra time and saved money would impact on both employee wellbeing and organisational productivity.
So what is our advice?
So what would our advice be for any business leaders considering translating their personal opinions on WFH into an immediate back to the office policy?
Firstly to gain a deeper understanding of their employees. A recent research project by McKinsey showed a worrying gap between what employers think their employees want from work and what they actually want.
Secondly to make sure you understand what makes people stay as well as why they might leave. The key drivers are often expression, connection, purpose and personal growth – using these as the foundations of hybrid working policies that get the most out of home working and time in the office may be more relevant than the locations themselves.
Thirdly, consciously shape a hybrid working strategy rather than simply letting it evolve. By involving employees in the shaping of the approach and actively considering how key needs are met hybrid working can be a driver of organisational development rather than simply a response to changed circumstances.
Fourthly, rather than assume that “certain things can only happen in the office”, actively seek to ensure that they are delivered in new, positive ways as part of shaping hybrid working. The informal practices of “seeing how others work” might be delivered more effectively with external mentoring combined with self reflection on how the insights may be applied within the organisation.
And finally to establish more trust in their employees by changing the model of leadership within the organisation. In these two examples there is an implicit and explicit sense that leadership teams can be trusted to work from home whilst other employees can’t. By consciously developing a leadership organisation where everyone is supported to lead rather than a smaller group, the increased trust can also leader to much greater innovation and organisational development.
We think hybrid working is here to stay and rather than being a disruption to “business as usual” is far more effectively seen as an opportunity to evolve and develop the organisation.
Want to take this further?
Do you want to create a leadership organisation? If your organisation is aiming to be in the vanguard of putting Mental Fitness at the heart of organisational development and you’d like help to gain a deeper understanding of your employees, we’d love to talk.