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Tuesday, 03 May 2022 12:42

Demand your employees back to the office at your own peril

By Robert Inshaw
Robert Inshaw, Senior Vice President, ANZ, Ribbon Communications Robert Inshaw, Senior Vice President, ANZ, Ribbon Communications

GUEST OPINION: The “time to get back to the office” refrain is being heard around Australia, from small regional centres to our large capital cities.  Policymakers, Lord Mayors, state and federal politicians have all added to the chorus in the interest of reinvigorating the economic well-being of our major cities, hollowed out by low occupancy rates and small business closures from the pandemic.

Not so fast is the collective refrain coming from most employees, however.  In the past six months, as delta receded to the fast-moving omicron strain around the world, and Australian vaccination rates climbed above 90% nationally, study after study has shown an extreme reluctance for workers to return to the office, particularly in any sort of full time, pre-pandemic fashion.  

According to a global survey of over 10,000 workers published last month by management consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates, only 3% of white-collar workers said they wanted to return to the office five days a week. Eighty-six per cent of that same survey group said they wanted to work from home at least two days a week, regardless of age group, with many also reporting they would rather quit their jobs than be forced back to the office full time. 

What’s going on here? Many human resources pundits are convinced that employees feel their productivity and quality of life have improved so significantly by working from home that they are reluctant to go back to pre-pandemic work routines.  Intuitively this makes sense, as employees are able to get more out of their work and home life as a result of the dramatic increase in flexibility in their day.  Being “chained” to a desk at work five days a week is just not going to cut it moving forward and bosses with a tin ear to this state of affairs will only be encouraging workers to dust off their CVs.

Getting the Technology Right

Let’s assume that, indeed, the 5-day-a-week office model is dead.  What can employers do to get the balance right – to maximize employee productivity and well-being, while still accomplishing the goals of the organization?

The technology industry will have an important role to play here.  As a leading global communications technology firm, we are starting to hear our customers talk about getting the right balance of technologies in place to make hybrid work a permanent feature of most workplaces.

When you dig down to the next layer to understand what IT directors and employers have on their minds, it has a lot to do with extending all the benefits of the office to the remote workforce and making their staff experience the same, regardless of where they are physically located.  This may seem straightforward, but it is not.  Getting the right balance of security, collaboration tools, cloud, storage, access controls, telecommunications and mobile enablement solutions in place is not easy, particularly as many employers are realising that one size does not fit all.  An employee in finance or human resources, with access to sensitive financial data or employee pay records, may need completely different tools than a remote sales or marketing team member.  Employers are also realising that they are dependent on a large number of external providers to help accomplish this – telecommunications providers, software vendors, systems integrators, cloud service providers, collaboration tools vendors, and the list goes on.

Add into this mix of uncertainty plans by the federal government to extend consumer and individual data rights legislation beyond the big banks, and it’s a fair conclusion to say we’ve never been in a position like this before.  Soon, many employers might be contemplating new compliance mandates for their remote workforces as well.    

As complex as this “re-wiring” of the Australian workforce might seem, the benefits to employers in improved employee loyalty and overall well-being should pay dividends for years to come.  The impact of the pandemic on our workplace culture will continue to ripple for years to come, and forward-thinking companies are already hard at work giving employees the right technology tools to thrive in this new environment.  Those employers that don’t adapt, will get left behind.

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