Aussie organisations want their workers back in the office, but employees expect flexibility. How can managers create an office policy that suits everyone?

Attitudes towards working from home have shifted dramatically over the last three years. A relatively uncommon perk pre-2020, working from home has become normalised and expected since COVID-19. But now, employers are increasingly keen to get their staff back into offices – with mixed results. According to Frontier Software CEO Nick Southcombe, there remain “a range of perspectives” on remote work. These include the employer’s desire for in-person collaboration and control, as well as the employee’s preferences for flexibility and work-life balance. As a result, many organisations have been exploring hybrid work models; however, Southcombe says many Australian employers still want their staff in the office more often.

“This could be because employers don’t want to pivot to accommodate the new models of work required when fielding a remote or hybrid workforce, perhaps believing the old ways are best,” he tells HRD. “Regardless of the stance taken by employers, it’s become evident that better engagement and satisfaction are key benefits related to meeting employee expectations around working arrangements and preferences.”

Employers vs employees: What does each side want?

When thinking about remote and hybrid work, it’s important to note that attitudes and strategies can vary significantly depending on the industry, company culture and individual employee preferences.

According to Southcombe, maintaining existing culture has been a significant concern for employers, many of which are concerned about their ability to maintain and foster their culture in a remote environment. He notes that other employers want better control and oversight of their employees’ work and believe that in-person brainstorming and problem-solving is more effective than doing it via a Teams meeting. Do organisations have to maintain the existing (pre-COVID) culture, or should they embrace an evolution in culture? “In-person interactions can facilitate spontaneous discussions, team-building activities and collaboration, which employers often consider harder to achieve in remote settings,” Southcombe says.

“For some organisations, the belief that employees are more focused and engaged when they are present in a traditional work environment is prevalent. They also cite that having employees work from a shared office can enhance the sense of belonging and alignment with the organisation’s values and mission.” On the employee side, having the flexibility to work remotely has become a standard expectation. However, some employees do want to be in the office regularly to interact with their teams, to learn and, perhaps, to shine in the eyes of their bosses. Southcombe notes that while different individuals have different preferences, companies trying to abolish remote work completely should “expect resistance” from their staff.

All generations and age cohorts are seeking greater flexibility; however, this does seem to be particularly more so for younger workers, who expect that organisations will offer flexible working arrangements as standard. But with over a third of managers pulling back on remote work according to a 2022 LinkedIn study, how can employers work around the inevitable resistance?

15 steps to employee satisfaction

If your organisation is looking to enforce a one-size-fits-all policy, Southcombe says it should be prepared to see some turnover – especially among younger workers. But for those looking to create an effective hybrid working environment, there are several factors to consider:

Understand diverse employee preferences

Recognise that employees have diverse preferences when it comes to remote and flexible work. Consider conducting surveys or conversations to better understand what your employees need and want from their work arrangements.

Implement hybrid work models

Explore the feasibility of implementing hybrid work models that offer a blend of remote and in-office work. This can provide employees with flexibility while still maintaining in-person collaboration opportunities

Communicate transparently

Maintain open and transparent communication with your employees about your organisation’s remote work policies, expectations and any changes that may occur. Clear communication helps manage expectations and build trust.

Focus on outcomes

Shift your focus from monitoring hours worked to measuring outcomes and results. Emphasise the quality of work delivered rather than solely tracking hours spent at a desk.

Provide necessary tools and support

Ensure that remote workers have access to the technology, tools and resources they need to perform their tasks effectively. Provide technical support and training as required.

Promote work-life balance

Encourage employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance, especially when working remotely. Set boundaries and encourage breaks to prevent burnout.

Offer flexibility

Be flexible in accommodating employees’ personal circumstances. Allow them to adjust their work schedules and locations based on their needs; this can lead to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

Invest in virtual collaboration tools

Implement and promote the use of virtual collaboration tools to facilitate seamless communication, project management and teamwork among remote and in-office employees.

Provide training for managers

Train managers to effectively lead and manage remote teams. Equip them with skills to communicate, motivate and support remote employees.

Foster social interaction

Create opportunities for virtual team-building activities and social interactions. This helps maintain a sense of camaraderie among remote and hybrid teams.

Regular check-ins and feedback

Schedule regular check-ins with remote employees to provide guidance, discuss progress and address any challenges. Offer constructive feedback to help them improve and stay engaged.

Monitor employee wellbeing

Keep a close eye on employees’ wellbeing, both in terms of physical and mental health. Offer resources and support to address any challenges they may face.

Evaluate and adapt

Continuously assess the effectiveness of your remote work policies and strategies. Be open to tweaking plans based on feedback and evolving circumstances.

Lead by example

Demonstrate your commitment to remote work by leading by example. Show that you trust and value your employees’ ability to work independently, regardless of their physical location.

Tailor approaches

Recognise that the best practices for navigating remote work may vary based on your organisation’s industry, culture and the roles of your employees. Tailor your approaches accordingly.

By considering these pieces of advice, employers can navigate the complex landscape of remote work, creating a work environment that accommodates employees’ preferences while fostering productivity, collaboration and job satisfaction.

Article originally published on HRD, September 2023.