You may have noticed that business owners and leaders have, on the whole, remained very quiet on the topic of remote working during the lockdowns, and that is probably because they have had very little choice in the matter.
With the option to return to the office only a few weeks away, I believe that we are going to see more business leaders start to speak up about what they actually want to happen.
It’s been really interesting listening to different people across a diverse range of roles and across different industry sectors talk and share their opinions on social media about what is going to be best for the business moving forward in this respect. But in some ways, that’s a bit like football supporters sharing their opinion on who should start for their team on Saturday. It’s all interesting, and in many cases valid debate, and people do get very passionate about their own opinions, but in the end it has little or no bearing on the managers team selection. And in that respect, the remote working debate will naturally be decided by the management and not by the employees of the business.
Of course there has been an opportunity to rethink the working model and having been forced to adopt a full working from home scenario for 12 months, every business owner has been able to evaluate its impact on the company.
I think that it is fair to say that most employees want to retain at least some working from home options going forward, but the majority of people also want some return to the office, and this desire by the workforce will form part of the decisions being made going forward by management, along with many other factors, such as company culture, wellbeing and mental health, productivity, quality and standards of work, customer service and satisfaction, practicality, sales, teamwork, information sharing, staff retention and the list goes on.
There is also the question of who is responsible for the work from home set up, the equipment and health and safety, because if a company requires you to work from home there is an extended duty of care.
This week, David Solomon, the CEO at Goldman Sacks Investment bank, hit the headlines, when he came out and said ‘It’s not a new normal’
Speaking to a conference on Wednesday, Solomon said: “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.”
Barclays CEO, Jes Staley also said this week that he did not believe that remote work was “sustainable” long-term. He too pointed towards the negative impact that remote work has had on collaboration and culture.
However, some CEOs are also coming out to state that they will adopt more of a hybrid model, and Spotify and Salesforce have both said that they will adopt that type of flexible approach to remote working.
It may simply come down to things like the industry sector and the way that those individual businesses like to work collaboratively, or not, and where a scheduled Teams or Zoom call just can’t replace the spontaneous, on the fly impact sessions, collaborations and debates that make that company what it is. If remote working has any negative impact on culture or productivity, then a return to the office is likely to be a major part of the outcome.