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WFH? Yes, or no?

As the UK is slowly returning to some kind of normal, are you and your colleagues? Are you already back in the office, or at least planning to in the near future? Has your company parked its planning until September, or are you currently negotiating how many days you can work from home to save yourself from a dreadful commute? Perhaps you’ve taken the brave step to flee the city for that country idyll, or convert your garden shed into a fully functioning WFH office?

These seem to be the issues that are driving many organisations at the moment as they weigh-up their business needs in consultation with the needs of their employees.

But as this practice will be new to the majority of companies and their workforce, what are the key considerations that drive important business decisions?

Will the noted increase in productivity from working from home begin to diminish? What will it be like without a regular get together with work colleagues, will that be an improvement to mental health, or a detriment? Will you miss those spontaneous conversations with colleagues? Have employees thought about how they get considered for promotion, if they aren’t visible in and around the office? You may be working longer hours, but when working from home, can anyone see this?

Will a more flexible approach to working lead back to a traditional gender divide, where those that are often most responsible for childcare, the mothers, decide that working from home, or more flexibly, suits their life choice and benefits their children. Is this a recipe for women to continue being seen as less committed to the workplace and discriminated against in terms of pay?

How can flexible working continue to work in collaborative industries, when trying to arrange meetings, in my company’s case - client brainstorms? When certain people aren’t in the office on set days and have to join in on Zoom there's the potential to be side-lined, due to a poor connection, or the challenge of just not being able to read the room?

Look at some of the decisions being made in a few major corporations...Amazon and Google are both looking to encourage workers back into the office. Amazon has alerted its corporate staff to expect to be back in the office by early autumn, returning to an “office-centric culture as our baseline. We believe it enables us to invent, collaborate, and learn together most effectively.”

Approaching it more flexibly, Google expects that 60% of its employees will be on site for a few days a week, with 20% working in new office locations and 20% working from home.

The banking and finance sector is split on which way to go, with Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan summoning its workers back to the office at the end of June, with Goldman Sachs outlining that ‘We know from experience that our culture of collaboration, innovation and apprenticeship thrives when our people come together, and we look forward to having more of our colleagues back in the office so that they can experience that once again on a regular basis. ‘

While, away from investment banking, on the High Street, Lloyds Bank is very upfront in its motives by announcing a ‘WFH future to attract the best staff and slash offices by 20%’ while looking to embrace a ‘permanently changed future’.

Closer to the sector that CIB inhabits, ARUP, the employee-owned global engineering and design firm has announced a ‘new hybrid work model allows 6,000 UK employees to choose their working days across a seven-day week in a new era for flexible working’. This ‘Work Unbound’ initiative will give its 15,500 employees (known as members) the choice of when and where they work.

Looking further into the construction sector and how this may affect development, cities in the UK have continually grown year on year, as a quick tour around London, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool shows. But what if in the post-pandemic world it begins to restrict this growth as people work from home and travel into cities less? Will offices be redeveloped into residences, will the shops and all the infrastructure that support offices dry up? The effects on retail and commercial developers could be devastating and could mean a less than positive outlook for construction as a whole.

Meanwhile, at CIB, we have taken the decision to start back in the office on a permanent basis, closely following those that have also decided to return. Our thinking is that, as a growing creative marketing agency, we also need to ‘invent, collaborate, and learn together.’ This is important, as we have a duty of care to the more junior people in our organisation - we know how much of people's development is through observation and recognise that ‘our culture of collaboration, innovation and apprenticeship thrives when our people come together.’ We will look to constantly review this from both an effectiveness and staffing point of view, as I believe others will, with the Centre for Cities think tank predicting there will be shift back to pre-Covid working patterns for many as restrictions are lifted, with potential for people to return to five days a week in the longer term.

Happy return to work day. I trust that this will benefit us all.

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