There are so many topics for conversation when you listen to the news, read the gossip columns or are having a chat with your friend, that picking one to delve further into is a difficult choice! The "Hybrid" office is a hot topic. Offices and business spaces are lying empty worldwide, yet business has not stopped!! Why? Because we are working from home! The success of homeworking has given companies and business owners who would prefer to return to office working a challenge. There is a disagreement between management and employees over where we work. If you have a contract of employment which includes hours of work, holidays, parental leave, sick leave, does it also state where your employer expects you to work from?
I've been thinking ‘Would I be happy to return to the office to work, or would I prefer to work from home?’. Me being me, thinks it would depend partly on what my employer wants me to do, as they're the one paying my salary. Disagreement on this might open a can of worms, conversations become personal and all about me, rather than the bigger picture. Fortunately, these areas of conflict can be resolved through negotiation.
Why would you need to work from an office if for the past year you've been working from home and performing satisfactorily; do they not trust you, or are you scared of returning to working with people face-to-face? These are just a few of the questions being asked. As I sit and think about my answers, it occurred to me that people can be so self-absorbed, not realising the effects their actions can have on the businesses and the people they work for.
The ONS reported that In April 2020, early on in the first lockdown, 46.6% of people in employment did some work at home; of those who did some work from home, 86.0% did so because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This fact itself tells me that there were places of work lying empty, while still costing rent, rates, electricity - there was a cost is the point! Although there is no security camera on you while working from home, you are trusted to do your job to your best ability and put in the hours required. Once again, the ONS has data stating of those who did some work from home, around one-third worked fewer hours than usual (34.4%), and around one-third worked more hours than usual (30.3%), I'm sure these results do not come as any great shock - some work more, some work less.
If your manager asked how you felt about being face-to-face with colleagues, about the risk of catching COVID or about potential mental health issues, how would you respond? I would probably give this sort of answer - I live a "normal" life, go shopping, meet up with friends, go for walks; I don't consider my mental state as unbalanced, in fact, I would be excited at being back in a normal working environment. I look forward to sitting at my desk, talking with my colleagues, having friendly banter over the computer screens. Being in the "office" at home with ZOOM and TEAMS etc has served a purpose; however, to have a routine of being "at work" again is a more balanced reality. Do people really consider the return to the office difficult, or has it just become easier to work from home with no commute? Did you get a pet over lockdown to relieve loneliness which will stress if you have to leave them to go to work? Are you worried about being on crowded public transport? All valid points to you but maybe not so valid to your employer?
Remembering the bigger picture, employees are the cogs that help turn the wheels of industry, but employers are the facilitators of opportunity, allowing us to have a position in the business. So as managers and staff members begin "the home / office" conversations consider what the "must-have" is for you, versus what's not a requirement. Think about Wish Lists (more hours in the office) and what concessions you might make (more flexible hours at home). If you are about to engage in a conversation about returning to work with your manager here are 5 points to consider:
- Prepare a good Opening Statement - your view, an understanding of their view, some data about returning to work, and an outline solution
- Be realistic and flexible in your expectations
- What is of value to your manager but doesn't matter too greatly to you?
- Propose a solution – hybrid working? job sharing? more social distancing at work?
- Agree on terms
If we can help you prepare for these conversations, provide invaluable skills to promote a Win/Win situation then please get in contact.