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In the rush to work from home, are we forgetting the allure of the office?

October 13, 2020 / United Kingdom

Working from home is here to stay. 

That brings definite upsides – like more flexibility and freedom from commuting (especially right now, with new restrictions in place and when public transport might feel less COVID-secure) but it also presents new challenges for HR. 

For recruitment too, given the allure of the office has been a long-standing perk.

Corporate HQ has become an important tool in the wellbeing and engagement toolbox. Subsidised canteens, on-site gyms and Friday happy hours reward and motivate employees, as well as providing productivity-critical face-to-face time.

25% of employees feel their productivity has fallen WFH and 45% miss face-to-face interactions with colleagues, for example.

So the big question for HR is, how to support employees in this new working world – to make sure WFH works for everyone?

Are your people working from home, or living at work? 

The average UK employee is working two hours longer every day since working at home. Little wonder, then, that 21% feel they can’t switch off from work and 47% of managers feel their team’s risk of burnout has increased. 

That’s a potential wellbeing crisis that businesses can ill afford. Work-related stress and mental illness accounts for more than half of work absence, and costs British businesses £26Bn each year.

Now especially, when commercial conditions are challenging, businesses need their biggest asset – the workforce – operating at full strength.

That’s going to involve rethinking HR at several levels.

  • How should benefits and perks evolve, to better meet the needs of a remote workforce?
  • How can we create a unified employee experience when employee’s’ experiences of WFH are so divided?
  • How can HR support people to define better work/home boundaries, when the boundaries are inherently merged? (Especially when few employees likely have dedicated ‘home office’ space).

How should benefits packages evolve?

Many typical benefits are aligned to working from the office. When the workforce has shifted to WFH, perks like cycle-to-work schemes, subsidised canteens and on-site exercise feel irrelevant.
Instead, HR should consider using the benefits budget in different ways, to achieve the same outcomes (that is, improve wellbeing; motivate; reward) for a workforce at home.

For instance, 72% of Brits say their energy bills have increased since WFH, with almost half those surveyed saying they’re worried about unaffordable bills. Could businesses subsidise these costs?

Equally, if you offer free breakfasts, subsidised lunches or Friday drinks, perhaps you could recreate those experiences at-home by to providing vouchers so employees can order food or drink to their home office.

Will the office still have a place? 

Even if your business is working wholly from home right now, that’s unlikely sustainable long-term without causing turnover. 

Many employees have coped fine with WFH – but there are plenty who haven’t. Plenty who don’t have space to work effectively, or tools to do their job. Or are juggling childcare. Or living in busy house-shares. Or are barely coping without face-to-face interaction with colleagues. 

When the latest round of restrictions lift, making the office available (and COVID-secure) for those who want it will likely prove crucial to long-term engagement and productivity.

Long-term, then, hybrid workforces look more likely than wholly-office or wholly-WFH. For HR, the biggest challenge will be accommodating this new flexibility, so all employees are motivated, rewarded, engaged and inspired whether they work from home or the office. 

This blog is part of The team that Eats together initiative, a content series exploring what normal looks like now, and how to enhance the working world to meet evolved employee expectations.

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The views and opinions expressed are based on the research conducted and they do not intend to present an official policy of Uber or any of its subsidiaries. Examples of advice mentioned in this article are based on open source information and assumptions made within the article are not reflective of Uber’s position.