The office dilemma – to open or not to open? That’s the question

Ragu Veeraraghavan, VP Workforce Analytics, SplashBI, explores the decision organisations are facing and how they can use data effectively to measure the performance and engagement of employees successfully regardless of their working location.

The typical office workforce and environment was very different at the start of this year. Just like retailers, employees were encouraged by the Government to work from home as much as possible. 

Before the current crisis, 3.4% of the U.S population worked from home and the number of UK workers who had moved to remote working had increased by nearly a quarter of a million over a decade. The numbers were already increasing rapidly, but the recent pandemic has made the issue accelerate quickly.

Organisations across the world faced unprecedented times and quickly adjusted to a ‘new normal’ – whether they liked it or not. While some organisations were already set up to work from home, 60% of US employees and as much as 86% of UK employees suddenly experienced remote working for the first time. And while the physical set up is essential (perhaps at the dining room table), this calls into question whether organisations should re-open or not once we are allowed back to ‘some sort’ of normality. 

Ragu Veeraraghavan, VP Workforce Analytics, SplashBI, explores the decision organisations are facing and how they can use data effectively to measure the performance and engagement of employees successfully regardless of their working location.

Remote working: a new reality
For some, working from home is distracting and draining. But one study found that working from home one day a week boosts output by 13%, so just imagine what could be achieved in five days! The average employee’s commuting time totals nearly an hour each day, and it really adds up. With office commuting removed, employees have an abundance of time on their hands, resulting in higher levels of productivity within the working week.

With more time on everyone’s hand, performance is much stronger and consolidated as there are less office distractions (and colleagues around you). In the comfort of your own home, higher productivity and performance combine to create stronger engagement, or in other words, 41% lower absenteeism. With a lack of face to face time, HR teams and line managers should be utilising people analytics to unlock the power of data and make data driven decisions by analysing the results to see if productivity at home is better or worse pre- or post- COVID-19.

But there’s another side of the coin
There are some organisations that didn’t thrive with the remote working environment. Culture is a different element to replicate and face to face meetings have been replaced behind the lens of our phones or computers. Face to face integration is generally lost, and although video conferencing can sometimes offset this, it’s not a perfect replacement. 

It’s important to regularly review the ‘new norm’: are some teams working better than others, and why? How can the success be replicated? Can you identify areas that need improvement by looking at some colleagues that are thriving and seeing what can be learned? Feeling like a cohesive team is more difficult when working remotely, but it can take time to adjust, especially when the dynamic and personas of each individual need to be taken into account. 

To overcome this it’s important to keep an open mind and host regular meetings when time allows. Employees must make a conscious effort to clearly communicate with each other and ownership. Being transparent within the team allows questions to be ironed out and everyone to work to the same goals.

Furthermore, using data to analyse which personality types might be adjusting to the new norm better than others will enable HR teams to predict which employees might lose productivity or engagement and put measures in place before the issue escalates.

More balance, less debate
Many employees are jumping at the thought of returning back to office environments, however, some are a little more skeptical and their thoughts and opinions should be considered. The cost of an action is often overridden by a decision but businesses need to think about the long term decisions as well as the health and wellbeing implications. The answer is in the data collected and businesses need to be certain that the best outcome for the business is chosen. Is this trend economically justified, or is it just evolving workforce craving modern convenience? 

Now, a year into the global pandemic, an increasing number of companies are asking: should we work from home indefinitely? And if they do decide to make major organisational changes about remote work, could they see similar leaps in productivity? At the core of the ‘new norm’ is the people, your colleagues around you. Overlapping the best of both worlds could be the best compromise but it’s safe to say COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change, putting into perspective what a good work/life balance really looks like. The HR teams and managers that recognise this and use data to ensure this work/life balance can remain intact, regardless of whether employees are back in the office or continuing to work remotely, will see a happy, engaged and loyal workforce as a result. 

Let’s unite
At the moment, the post-COVID-19 office/home working route is still being questioned,  but if another wave is on the cards, the data gathered, analysed and reported on since the pandemic began will be even more important when making decisions. Organisations, no matter what size, will need to continue to track each individual’s return to work, and performance throughout the pandemic and ensure that office-based working practices are picked up again, wherever located.

Organisations are doing their best to navigate through unprecedented times and continuously make data-driven decisions. With such a constant state of change, data can be the ally line managers need to make sure their colleagues are working in harmony with one another, goals are met and communication is prevalent at all levels. 

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    6 December 2023


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