The current discourse surrounding the return to the office (RTO) versus working from home (WFH) has been reduced to a seemingly irreconcilable clash between management’s desires and employee preferences. Media outlets frequently frame this debate as a standoff between two opposing forces, with compromise viewed as the only feasible solution – hence, the emergence of the popular “Hybrid Working” model. However, it is essential to challenge this oversimplified narrative and steer the conversation towards harmoniously accommodating an ‘office or HQ’- in a relevant form – and flexible working arrangements (FWA).
The Misguided Debate
Misguided media articles and oversimplified narratives often portray RTO as what senior management demands and FWA as what employees desire. This portrayal pits these two concepts against each other as if they are mutually exclusive. This misleading perspective has been perpetuated by academics and commentators, inadvertently promoting a divisive and counterproductive discourse. It is imperative to recognise that WFH does not equate to the complete abandonment of the office, just as RTO does not imply a ban on WFH. We should expect both: the benefits of an office whilst working flexibly from home!
Redefining the Office
Critical to the discussion is the need for employees and employers to shift from their current paradigm and separate the traditional idea of an “office” from its physical form. The notion of an “office” has evolved beyond the confines of a physical building. In today’s digital age, an office – for example – can be a virtual space accessed through a web browser or specialised software.
Today’s Case for the Office Concept
The office concept, whether physical or virtual, remains integral to modern work environments. It encompasses a set of ideas and tools that facilitate work, management, leadership, collaboration, mentoring and productivity, regardless of the physical location. An office can be a hub for cooperation, knowledge sharing, and innovation. It fosters spontaneous interactions, idea exchange, and the development of individuals, teams and organisational culture.
Employees should respect the idea of returning to the office. Contrary to popular belief, doing so is in our best interests. It plays a pivotal role in creating visual (line of sight) between stakeholders, bringing us closer together as social communities. Additionally, an office environment often enhances employee performance, well-being and overall job satisfaction.
The Importance of Flexible Working Arrangements
Conversely, employers should not perceive flexible working arrangements, such as WFH, as a threat. These arrangements offer employees a valuable sense of autonomy and work-life balance. They can help reduce the stress of long commutes, improve mental health, and boost productivity. Furthermore, FWA can also be a powerful tool for attracting and retaining top talent, catering to diverse individual needs and circumstances.
Reframing to find common ground and synergy
It is time to dispel the notion that these two concepts are inherently contradictory. Rather than framing the debate as RTO versus WFH, we should focus on how these seemingly conflicting ideas can coexist to benefit employers and employees.
The shift from the binary choice of RTO or WFH to a more inclusive approach that accommodates both the concept and inherent usefulness of an “office” and flexible working arrangements is not only possible but also beneficial for organisations and their employees. By embracing the opportunities presented by this new post-COVID era of work, organisations can create a more resilient and adaptable workforce, ultimately leading to enhanced productivity, job satisfaction, and overall success.
Through reframing the challenge, this slight shift in perspective and the proactive pursuit of harmony, we can truly usher in a new era of work.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Terry is a partner in Digital Conversation’s Virtual HQ, and helps organisations think through their approach to accommodating Flexible Working Arrangements and adopting Virtual HQs