Chris Perry | Contributor
Sept. 6, 2023
As summer winds down, kids across the country are starting to grumble about going back to school. This year, they might not be alone. Parents are also complaining about having to leave home and go back to the office.
A growing number of companies are reversing course on work-from-home (WFH). What started as an emergency measure during the pandemic (how soon we forget) quickly turned into a prized benefit for workers. Now, full-time remote work is being painted as a liability by managers who perceive a falloff in productivity and an erosion of corporate culture when employees don’t come into the office.
In just the past few weeks, Goldman Sachs announced it was going back to a five-day in-person workweek for most employees, with CEO David Solomon calling remote work an “aberration” that he wants eliminated “as quickly as possible.” Amazon CEO Andy Jassy warned employees who don’t show up to the office at least three days per week that “it’s probably not going to work out for you.” He said a review of WFH performance showed that employees were more engaged and collaborative in the office.
Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg agreed with that assessment, telling employees they must return to the office three days a week, because “people who work from home are not efficient, and engineers who come to the office get more work done.” Even Zoom has decided that employees living within 50 miles of a corporate office must come in at least two days per week.
The Trade-Offs Are Real
Despite the backlash against WFH, I believe hybrid work models are one of the best and most important innovations in business in the past 50 years. The problem is that the corporate world adopted WFH without much advance thought or planning. The pandemic required people to work from home, effective immediately. The experiment proved largely successful in that companies continued running and earning profits. Employees loved it so much that when their pandemic isolation ended, huge numbers embraced hybrid work. Most worked during what would be commute times (an average of 27.6 minutes each way, each day) while also being more accessible to their families.
But there’s a difference between short-term success and long-term application. In the short term, individuals and teams drew on established corporate culture to define workflows and business practices. Over the long term, it’s much harder to maintain this culture—especially as new employees enter the organization.
To balance these trade-offs, an effective corporate work policy must provide two things: the ability for the company to achieve its business objectives and the flexibility to allow employees to successfully complete their responsibilities while supporting a meaningful work-life integration. A policy that falls short on either of these two counts is doomed to fail.
Presence with Purpose
In my experience, there is no one-size-fits-all policy that will meet those two requirements for each employee throughout an entire organization. Different roles have different responsibilities, schedules and workflows. For that reason, policies should be tailored to the needs of individual business units, functions, teams and even individual jobs.
In making decisions about where and how employees can work, I believe companies should adhere to the principle of “presence with purpose.” If you are telling employees they need to be in the office, you must communicate clear and compelling reasons for them to be there. Those reasons can include both business needs and personal development. If you are allowing an employee to work remotely, that too should have a clearly defined and communicated purpose, such as providing improved work-life balance. In no case should an employee feel like they are being forced into the office for no reason, and managers should not feel hamstrung or undermined by overly permissive WFH policies.
At Broadridge, a global fintech, we’ve adopted presence with a purpose as our guiding principle. To ensure that our policies balance the trade-offs of WFH while ensuring presence with purpose, we focus on four elements, or what we call the FACS framework, as a key to successful hybrid work models. FACS supports our strong culture and helps our employees thrive by offering flexible on-/off-site work schedules:
- Flexible: Although the company will have to set broad parameters of acceptable practices, work models are most effective when they are established by direct managers with the best views into workflows, client requirements and team performance. Managers should have the authority to customize on-/off-site work arrangements and schedules for their teams—all within the boundaries of the company-wide policy.
- Accountable: Work policies are not sustainable unless they meet the business needs of the company and effectively serve clients. Results should be monitored and policies adjusted as needed to maintain performance.
- Connected: It is the company’s responsibility to provide employees with the tools they need to build strong working relationships and feel connected to the business and culture whether they are working on- or off-site. To do so, companies must strategically approach the task of harnessing technology and policy to help employees build those strong relationships within their own teams and across the organization. The philosophy needs to be: We are always only a button away from high-definition versions of our colleagues.
- Supported: Engaged employees lead to satisfied clients, which drives profitability and growth. For that reason, it is incumbent on the company to provide a healthy work environment that fosters both well-being and personal and professional development. In today’s hypercompetitive labor market, delivering on that promise is a business imperative. Finally, we have a way of enabling work-life balance by leveraging technology and powered by a trusting mindset.
The Hybrid Option
The reversal we are seeing today against WFH is not an indictment of remote work itself. Rather, it’s a retreat from some of the overly ambitious assumptions about the effectiveness of fully remote work that came out of the pandemic. I believe the current crackdown against WFH will recede. Remote work is here to stay, and over time, individual companies will determine the hybrid arrangements that work best for them, their employees and their customers.
As that process plays out, I have one final word of advice for companies and managers: Don’t rely entirely on weekly mandates for office attendance. Instead, focus time and resources on giving employees a reason to come to the office beyond required attendance and their paycheck. Train managers to engage associates, establish a formal practice for new hires to be onboarded via specific programming and practices, and ensure that younger professionals have mentoring programs that go beyond their direct manager. Create formal and informal opportunities for employees who come into the office to interact and learn from senior managers. Above all, be intentional in your efforts to engage associates. Presence with a purpose is much better than “present and accounted for.”
Since we adopted that philosophy at Broadridge, engagement scores have gone through the roof, and office attendance is right in line with our measure of business needs. We struck that balance in large part by creating incentives that make people want to work in person. These can be financial, professional or even social. Employees—especially young employees—are more inclined to come into the office if they know it will help advance their careers. Show them how in-person time leads to opportunities and learning. The right modern workplace practices will benefit the company, your customers and your bottom line.
Chris Perry | Contributor
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