The role of the office is being scrutinised like never before after the global pandemic caused a seismic shift to ‘working from home’. Gone are the dreaded commutes and strict working hours in favour of flexibility. However, a year after the global transformation in working patterns, the question remains – does working from home full time really offer the best long-term solution for businesses?
Remote work during the pandemic: one vast employee behaviour experiment
It has been one vast experiment in employee behaviour, and at first it worked – because it had to. In fact, CEOs were surprised to see improvements in employee productivity. For some companies, especially those in the tech and start-up market, home working was already the norm.
It allowed leadership to recruit across geographies, which widened the talent pool and reduced restrictions imposed by factors such as the cost of housing.
However, for many companies, this was a whole new way of working. As Benjamin Voyer, professor of behavioural science at ESCP Business School and scientific co-director of the Turning Points chair by Cartier, ESCP and HEC, observes, the novelty factor may have contributed to the initial upswing in productivity.
If this is something done in the long term, we will see productivity decreasing. We will see working from home as a new dilemma for companies: is it something that provides a competitive advantage or helps us to retain employees?
And what happens when the novelty factor of remote working wears off?
Although doing away with the considerable expense of renting office space may be attractive, ditching the office entirely in favour of remote working also reduces the opportunity for those all-important moments of serendipity. Bumping into a colleague away from your desk can lead to valuable collaborative insights and a sense of agency that can foster employee loyalty. As the necessity of working from home transitions to the right to work from home, combining technology with an adaptable approach will be key as companies seek to strike the right balance in their working culture.
Every company has its own unique strategy and business model, and some industries are inevitably better suited to the remote-working model. That said, there is little doubt that the future of work will embrace a hybrid approach where flexibility is king. For organisations such as Platform.sh, a global tech company, the hybrid model removes limitations. “If you’re building a global business, working from home is terrific,” says CEO Frédéric Plais. “You save so much time every step of the way and the international aspect is at the core of that.”
This content was produced in partnership with the commercial department of the Financial Times.