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Why people will be heading back to the office, eventually

While the benefits of working from home are good for the individual – I’m not refuting the extra time spent at home and healthier work-balance – the benefits of working in an office are equally as great, for both employee and business. And businesses and their staff need visible leaders, and you can’t be quite as visible from your kitchen table.

After nearly two years of lockdowns and restrictions of some sort, it seems abundantly clear that the UK has become rather comfortable with the lives they initially struggled with in March 2020. We’ve all had a taste of a healthier work-life balance, no long and stressful commutes, and more time to spend at home with loved ones – and we should know. This year, we conducted research surveying HR professionals to better understand how their expectations have changed across the pandemic.  

Unsurprisingly, we discovered that most people favour a hybrid working arrangement. At least 69 per cent of respondents cited a preference for two to three days in the office, 22 per cent opted for only working from home, and just nine per cent wished to be office-based full time. The days of early mornings, takeaway coffees, and delayed peak-hour trains have been consigned to the history books.  

Or have they?  

It’s worth noting the research we carried out was during the first part of the year when COVID infection rates were high, and we didn’t have a choice of leaving our homes, even if we wanted to. I suspect that the nine per cent, who expressed a preference for office work, has increased as the novelty of home working wains. Many people miss their office workdays and workplace culture, and to completely dismiss this option could lose employers valued staff.  

A workplace can be a hive of ideas and a hub of creativity. Collaboration can lead to valuable shared thoughts that can help solve problems. Workplaces where people bounce ideas around for a mutual goal can pay dividends in continuous learning and professional growth. Those small interactions you don’t give much thought to, the watercooler conversations and tea breaks across the tops of computer screens, form the sense of community that support company growth and efficiency. These are the instances where staff members exchange passionate ideas that, when working from home, go unsaid. I wonder, how many times those working from home have had a great idea or question, that they have internalised and forgotten, rather than send to a colleague over Teams?  

Early birds need to catch the worm 
The Millennials and Generation Zs of the world certainly haven’t been quiet in their demands for flexibility and ways in which their jobs can fit their lifestyle. A McKinsey & Company report shows that 48 per cent of 18-29 year-olds are the most interested in a hybrid work set-up. But the ‘privilege’ of home working is only really a privilege to those more progressed in their careers.  

Younger members of staff need the ‘hand-holding’ more senior professionals don’t – close mentorship, opportunities to jump in and ghost on calls or meetings, and learning from senior management with years of experience, are all exclusive facets reserved for the office. Amidst today’s Great Resignation where we are seeing the younger generations ‘job-hopping’, surely absorbing what workplaces and teams can offer in terms of learning and development (L&D) and career progression should be embraced, not rejected.  

Visible leadership 
Being a visible leader isn’t about saying ‘good morning’ to a team each day. Successful and effective leadership traits, according to the Corporate Finance Institute, include effective communication, confidence, and people-orientation. Researchers have long studied managerial derailment, finding a key behavioural category of bad management being “moving away behaviours” which create distance from their team, and erodes trust.  

The concept of absenteeism among leadership is very real – described as leaders promoted into management enjoying the privileges of senior roles, but avoiding any involvement with their juniors. When people in leadership take ownership of their role and use it to encourage and inspire their colleagues, working collaboratively to meet a business’ bottom line, companies perform better. Businesses and their staff need visible leaders, and you can’t be quite as visible from your kitchen table.  

While the benefits of working from home are good for the individual – I’m not refuting the extra time spent at home and healthier work-balance – the benefits of working in an office are equally as great, for both employee and business. Further self-development and opportunities for progression, not to mention the face-to-face interaction (we are after all, social beings), should be seen as things to make the most of. As Cornelius Riese, co-CEO of DZ Bank says, “Anyone who hasn’t seen the inside of the office in the last few weeks has made a mistake.”  

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