Why is the world divided on work from home?

Research says that globally, a majority of employees want flexibility, while leaders are quite sceptical about remote work

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With the big giants in the IT sector, including TCS, Wipro and Infosys, already starting to bring back their workforces to the office in a staggered manner, more employers are now eager to see their employees back at their office desks. What do the employees want? An Ipsos survey done for the World Economic Forum (WEF), clearly shows that employees across the world want to enjoy flexibility in their life. The global survey, covering over 12,000 working professionals in 29 countries reveals that employees prefer more flexibility in their work schedule post the pandemic. While about 66 per cent of them want their employers to offer them a more flexible work schedule, a shocking 30 per cent go on to say that they would look for another job if their employers fail to provide them the flexibility to work from home post the pandemic!

However, the outlook of some of the leaders and employers, towards remote work, differs. David Solomon, CEO, Goldman Sachs, was never really in favour of the concept. Expressing his views against remote work, at the Credit Suisse Group AG conference, Solomon called the concept an “aberration”. He strongly believes that, remote working is not suitable for a business like theirs, which thrives on an innovative and collaborative apprenticeship culture.

“At HPE, the debate over work-from-home or work-from-office never really existed. We knew that the future of work would be hybrid, and therefore, in a very structured manner we have designed our workplaces to suit the hybrid work model”

Sailesh Menezes, CHRO, HPE

Solomon is not the only one who takes this stand. Jamie Dimon, CEO, JP Morgan Chase & Co., also expressed similar views on remote work last year, saying that it goes against learning and culture.

Even Reed Hastings, co-chief executive, Netflix, said in a media interaction that not being able to work in an environment where there is no human interaction is a pure negative.

Research suggests that in terms of productivity of employees, the results are quite mixed. While some employees really enjoy working from home, there are others who prefer working from office. In fact, in the WEF survey, 21 per cent of people, globally, were desperate to return to office since it was affecting their productivity and time management.

The divide between what leaders and employees feel about work-from-home is quite clear.

Not all businesses have been able to offer the flexibility of remote working to their employees, but a significant number have realised that work can be easily accomplished and managed remotely. According to a Mckinsey report, it is mainly the businesses in the information technology (IT) sector and the financial services sector that have a larger scope of providing their people work-from-home flexibility while still maintaining business continuity.

Anurag Verma, VP-HR, Uniphore, agrees that the outlook and the thought process of leaders or managers and their employees towards working from home is divided. “It has been challenging for managers to manage teams remotely. In fact, they do not really enjoy managing remote teams,” says Verma. This is because, every sector, be it services or manufacturing, has always believed in working from office. Nobody ever really thought that work could also be done remotely.

“Working from home does not facilitate building a culture. Therefore, leaders want employees to meet and work from office, to create a culture”

Jayati Roy, director-HR, Barco India

Managers have been used to the feeling of empowerment that comes with watching employees working under their noses. With remote working, these managers feel they are losing control, and this is a genuine issue. “Some employees take undue advantage of working from home. And when, the organisation attempts to keep a check, they question the trust factor,” points out Verma.

Jayati Roy, director-HR, Barco India, agrees that thoughts are definitely divided on the remote working model when it comes to managers and employees. “Employees being called back to office, fear losing out on the flexibility they so enjoyed till now,” asserts Roy.

According to Roy, employers feel that culture cannot be built if people do not connect or collaborate with each another. “Working from home does not facilitate building a culture. Therefore, leaders want employees to meet and work from office, to create a culture,” tells Roy.

How can this divide be closed?

Verma feels that even during work from home, there should be frequent and regular yet casual checks. This way, people will not lose track of what is happening. “The onus of keeping in touch, falls equally on the managers and their employees,” states Verma.

“It has been challenging for managers to manage teams remotely. In fact, they do not really enjoy managing remote teams”

Anurag Verma, VP-HR, Uniphore

Roy feels that the hybrid model is the best solution to the difference of opinion on the work-from- home approach. Hybrid working can satisfy both the employers as well as the employees, as it is a mix of remote and in-office working.

Sailesh Menezes, CHRO, HPE, shares with HRKatha that in his company, they have already identified some roles which are going to be permanently work-from-home, and some where people will be required to come to the office.

“At HPE, the debate over work-from-home or work-from-office never really existed. We knew that the future of work would be hybrid, and therefore, in a very structured manner we have designed our workplaces to suit the hybrid work model,” reveals Menezes.

Since the hybrid work model will be the solution for this big divide for most companies, the bigger challenge will arise for leaders and managers, who will need the relevant skills to manage hybrid teams and quickly adapt to this new normal.

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