The future of flexible working: home working is here to stay but the office lives on
In the latest in our series of articles with Cambridge Ahead, the business and academic member organisation explores the workplace with contributions from four members of its young advisory committee - Liam Ronan-Chlond, head of engagement at Firstbase, Henry Stark, marketing and communications officer at Marshall of Cambridge, Thomas Bewes, surveyor – industrial agency at Jones Lang LaSalle and Jacqueline Platt, senior manager in audit and assurance at Deloitte.
The pandemic triggered the rapid transition of office workers into remote workers and a new survey of 200 young professionals under the age of 35, commissioned by the Cambridge Ahead young advisory committee (YAC), has found that 92 per cent of respondents, who suddenly found themselves working from home, would like to see employers continue to offer this option now that restrictions are easing. A previous survey undertaken by the YAC last year revealed that many young people had not been given the option to work from home pre-pandemic, even if their job could be done remotely.
There are, of course, significant numbers of people who need to be physically present to perform their roles and who have remained in the workplace throughout the pandemic. However, as social restrictions continue to ease and businesses review their remote working policies, it is unlikely that previous routines for those who do not need to be in the workplace, will be re-established.
“Our survey reveals that people are increasingly seeing the office as a space for collaboration but prefer to use their time away to concentrate on individual tasks, such as writing reports or reviewing documents,” says Liam Ronan-Chlond, YAC member and head of engagement at Firstbase. “This may well represent a new dichotomy, working from home to plug away on solo activities and heading into the office to collaborate.”
Crucially, people want the freedom to work both remotely and in the office, with their preferred choice being two to three days in each working environment.
“There are a number of barriers that concern people when they are considering a return to the office, with the daily commute and anxiety about virus exposure at the top of the list,” advises Henry Stark, YAC member and marketing and communications officer at Marshall of Cambridge.
“We have consistently seen that the 21 to 35-year-old demographic want to work in the office for two to three days, which suggests that young people still want, and need, access to an office environment and the collaboration which stems from being with their peers in person.”
Four areas were assessed for their contribution across all roles and industries: meetings, training, report writing and integrating new starters. Ninety per cent of respondents believe that integrating new starters is best undertaken in an office environment, while just seven per cent of those surveyed believe that an office environment is crucial for writing reports.
However, there is clearly still deliberation as to how effective meetings are in either working environment, with 47 per cent of respondents in favour of remote meetings, while 53 per cent preferring to hold these in an office environment.
The young workforce has a clear appetite for remote working opportunities moving forwards but there are a number of challenges they have highlighted when away from the office which employers will need to take into consideration when updating their remote working policies. Social isolation proved to be an overwhelming trend with 70% of participants highlighting this as a concern.
Thomas Bewes, YAC member and surveyor – industrial agency at Jones Lang LaSalle, notes that “a key issue in the remote working environment, specifically home working, is staying motivated and productive, with the temptation to work longer, but less productively, continuing to be an issue.”
With just 40 per cent of home workers having access to a dedicated home office, many of those working from home have been working in less traditional workspaces such as kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms. Upgrading employees home office space is conducive to a productive working environment although.
Liam notes: “Whether working from these rooms has been a choice or a necessity remains to be seen.”
So, how do organisations reflect the preferences of their employees in their policies and practices?
“Employers should have honest conversations with their employees about their appetite for remote working in the future and ask for transparency from them about when, and where, they have been working to build this into their policies,” advises Jacqueline Platt, senior manager in audit and assurance at Deloitte.
“Trust is a key motivator and the majority of individuals cite flexibility around working hours as advantageous to their work efficiency. In fact, the theme of trust was present throughout the entire survey, with employees keen to see directors trusting their teams to work efficiently away from the office.”
The future of flexible working will require companies to reinvent policies, implement cultural change and invest in infrastructure that enable employees to continue to deliver their work, regardless of their location.
By creating clear guidelines to encourage employees to switch off at the end of the workday to prevent burnout, trusting their employees to deliver their work on schedule, and collaborating with employees to define which activities should be prioritised in the office, organisations will be able to effectively meet the expectations of the young workforce and deliver a remote working policy that meets the needs of the business and the individuals they employ.
As Liam notes: “Young people want to go back into the office but still want the flexibility to work from home when required. They want the best of both and the YAC want to support industry here so that Cambridge is a vanguard city in transitioning into the new era of working.”
Read more from this series
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