A major change in office dynamics generated from COVID-19 has been the option to let employees work from home. While this was a necessity during the pandemic to prevent employees from getting sick, many CIOs in the post-vaccine working world are now weighing their options for how they need their teams to function going forward.
The debate of “working from home vs office” is one that seems to put many C-suite interests at odds with others, including many CIOs. In a blog for their site, management consulting company Korn Ferry provides color commentary for a December 2020 Best Practice Institute survey.
“Emboldened by the rapid pace of vaccinations and the ability to once again be together without masks, a small but growing number of business leaders aren’t shying away from airing their true feelings about remote work—and it’s clear they’re skeptical of whether it produces the best results. Roughly 84 percent of CEOs in a recent survey say they want employees back in the office this year, for instance.”
Is this what the employees want?
That same survey shows that only 10 percent of employees want to return to the office full-time. Via a separate blog post, Korn Ferry says that one-third of workers in another survey would turn down an offer for an in-office job, despite better pay and handsome benefits.
There are pros of working from home for many employees, with career placement company Zippia listing items in the plus column as elimination of commuting, cost reduction, and even happier employees. The Wall Street Journal refers to the difficulty CIOs are having keeping tech employees, referring to workers having greater bargaining power as a “seller’s market for IT talent.”
Korn Ferry notes that while productivity for many companies working remotely stayed close to pre-pandemic levels, individual company heads are concerned that their employees might be the exception to the rule.
“One CEO described people who want to work from home as less engaged than those who come to the office, while another leader labeled remote work as inferior to the office ‘for those who want to hustle.’” Korn Ferry also notes that managing remote employees may not be easy for supervisors, with a senior at Korn Ferry saying “Many leaders are not ready or trained for this paradigm shift.”
Views from the C-suite differ.
Ben Wallington, CEO of international luxury online retailer Designerwear, says, “I believe this is the right time to consider the full return into the workplace, especially with jobs already part of the equation.” Wallington says that some of his team members have to be in the office because of what they do, and that when it comes to deciding whether or not to have a remote IT department, “in-house hardware allows us to operate our business more efficiently.”
Some CIOs want their employees back in the office as well. Miranda Yan, Founder of software development company VinPit is one of them. She tells CIO Insight, “As the CIO, I, too, want my workforce and staff to get back to the office. Yes, it’s true that by now we are all adapted to work from home culture but, it is always better to have an in-person experience from the office interiors. Employees will also enjoy getting back to the same norm as it was two years back.” Miranda said that for her employees, the work from home experience felt like school detention, which could be due to balancing family life while working.
Other company leaders don’t agree with forcing employees to return to work, and might consider such policies “draconian.”
Rick Huff, CIO of Paycor, informed CIO Insight, “We immediately formed a team to create and own a ‘virtual first’ strategy for our organization once it was clear the pandemic was going to be a long road. We saw that the benefits of creating an environment where our employees were free to work anywhere were greater than the risks that this new normal might create.
“During the past year using our ‘virtual first’ team, we have kept a pulse on our employees’ sentiment through formal and informal surveys asking for feedback on how the strategy was unfolding. The feedback from our employee base has been overwhelmingly clear and we have no plans to require any ‘move back to the offices’ unless a physical presence is required to complete a certain job function. Our approach to ‘virtual first’ has opened new doors for employee productivity, flexibility and has given us access to talent from across the country.”
Similarly, digital transformation agency Engagency co-founder, president, and CEO Jason Perry made sure his employees were comfortable wherever they worked. After polling them and finding out that they don’t want to return to the office, he says, “You’ve got to give them freedom. Set them up for success, coach, and counsel them. They need to be nurtured and not taken advantage of, like so many IT employers have done.”
When advocating for a remote option, employees do understand that physical meetings are important for team building and performing certain job responsibilities. But are employees needed in the office every day?
For CIOs considering how to go forward, a hybrid option may be the best solution. Increasing numbers of organizations are experimenting with a hybrid model that blends scheduled days in the office and working remotely. The Society for Human Resource Management predicted in early 2021 that this will be the preferred model for many companies going forward, as it provides both the face-to-face opportunities and convenience of being on-site at least part of the time, with certain days allowing remote work options.