An increasing number of businesses are requiring their employees to return to office-based work, for reasons including a perceived lack of productivity at home, more fruitful in-person team collaboration, and a desire to build a strong corporate culture. Yet, for firms considering a return to the office, it’s essential to consider the potential impacts on employees, including conflicts with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy.
As the post-pandemic period continues to affect working patterns and the desires of younger generations continues to challenge business norms, work from home policies may need to be reviewed on a regular basis.
‘Return to office’ trend is popular among employers
In many ways, the pandemic ushered in a new era of flexible, hybrid working, but employers are increasingly turning their backs on working from home and shifting towards a pre-pandemic set-up.
According to the KPMG Outlook 2023 (opens a new window) survey, over three-fifths of UK CEOs say that corporate employees whose roles were traditionally office-based will be back in the office within three years. Some employers have already begun tightening rules around work from home, such as by mandating a core number of office days.
What’s more, employees can expect incentives for coming into the office. According to the same survey, 83% of CEOs say they’re likely to reward office-attending employees with favourable assignments, raises or promotions.
How work from home benefits DEI
Employers may be keen to see staff in-person, but a return to the office may not work for some employees, who may be exactly those that the business is trying to attract.
The Women in the Workplace 2023 (opens a new window) report by McKinsey, for example, suggests that women value the opportunity to work remotely and control when they work significantly more than men. As such, a stricter policy with mandated office days may work against the aim to attract women employees to a business.
Women aren’t the only employees who may be reluctant to return to the office. Employees with disabilities might prefer to avoid access or mobility issues, while those with caring commitments or health conditions could also benefit from the flexibility. Failure to accommodate these employees could have negative consequences for overall corporate strategy, by making it harder to improve equity and diversity. What’s more, if there is no suitable business reason for preventing someone in a particular role to work from home, this could be classed as ‘indirect discrimination’ – considered unlawful under the UK’s 2010 Equality Act.
From a performance perspective, requiring employees to come into the office on a more regular basis is likely to reduce the number of applicants, and may prevent employers from finding the best talent possible. Especially where roles demand rare and specialised skills, a more flexible approach is likely to attract a broader pool of talent.
Attracting younger employees
Mandating a return to the office may also alienate other cohorts. Although working in an office was once considered the norm, that isn’t the case for the current and next generation of employees – many of whom are looking for more job-role satisfaction that aligns with their values, and an improved work-life balance.
A report from King’s College London (opens a new window) concluded that, across 2000 surveyed people with a workplace in London, 82% of surveyed workers who work from home at least one day a week reported feeling positive about doing so, as it provided more control and helped steady their work-life balance. Employers and employees still need to find a balance, however, as 55% said it’s more difficult to build a rapport with colleagues virtually than in person.
While there are warnings over a lack of social interaction in the office and what that could mean for young people’s careers, it seems many young people disagree. Therefore, a more flexible work from home policy may go some way to attracting younger employees.
Reviewing a work-from-home policy
Setting up a work-from-home policy is one thing, but it must be reviewed as the business changes and develops. Here are some things a company should consider:
How important office working is to the business – e.g. Are face-to-face meetings necessary? How can technology support employees to work from home? Are different requirements needed for different roles? Can client and stakeholder meetings take place on certain days?
Do the expectations of the specific cohorts the company wants to attract align with the work from home policy?
Strategise any future needs – e.g. What skills and capabilities are necessary for the future workforce? How can work-from-home policies appeal to those employees? Stay abreast of emerging benefit trends (opens a new window) and build these into regular policy reviews.
Decide on the terms in the policy, and what they mean for the wider organisation and employees – e.g. homeworking, working from home, hybrid working.
Assess whether the employee’s home (or other location) is suitable for work – e.g. Is it safe? Is it secure? Do they have a stable internet connection? If needed, can steps be taken to render the space more suitable?
When deciding who can work from home, have a clear and transparent process in place, and communicate this to employees e.g. Who will make the decision? What steps are included in the decision-making process?
For more information, please visit our People Solutions (opens a new window) page, or contact:
Lucie Gosling-Myers, Client Development Manager, Lockton People Solutions