South Africans have spoken. No matter the calls to return to work, 72 percent of employees still want a mixture of in-person and remote working. Only nine percent say they would like to go back to their traditional work environment full-time, according to a survey by PwC.
Microsoft research also shows that employees want more in-person time with their teams but wish to keep the flexibility of remote work. This paradox is different for every worker. “Fifty-eight percent of employees who plan to spend the most and least time in-office are doing it for the same reason: more focused work,” says Microsoft. Workers in London, however, enjoy working from home and don’t want to return to the office despite what employers say.
A report published by the Policy Institute at King’s College London revealed that almost 80 percent of staff in the city who now work remotely at least once a week say the experience has been good for them. Four out of five say working from home helps them feel more in control and that they’re happy to cut down on their daily commute. Advaita Naidoo, the MD of Jack Hammer Global, Africa’s largest executive search firm, says forcing workers to return to offices due to the lifting of Covid-19 lockdowns will have unintended consequences.
“In South Africa, companies face a real risk of the rapid call-back impacting on their bottom line. While employees might not actually resign, the reasons for them wanting to do so will remain and compound,” she says. The reason behind this, says Naidoo, is that after two years of pandemic fight-or-flight survival, employees are tired, demotivated, stressed, worn out, fearful of the future, and straining because of the rising cost of living.
“One only has to look at the real-life impact of the return-to-work ultimatums on social media forums on the part of desperate employees, who simply can’t adapt and change their lives with short notice, to understand that just because companies can make this demand, it does not mean they should.” Elon Musk, the Tesla chief executive, told his employees to return to the office or simply “pretend to work” elsewhere, according to his staff.
Christine Armstrong, a UK-based workplace researcher, says Musk wanting people to go to the office is no surprise because it’s not the world that he lives in. “You have a disconnect in some organisations between senior leaders for whom it all used to work fine and the younger generations,” says Armstrong. Offices, unlike homes, can provide faster internet connectivity, resources, and real-time access to teams.
Linda Trim, the sales and marketing director of Giant Leap consultancy, says bosses need to give a reason for workers to come back to the office. “They want to know if they’re going to leave their home, their office has to be better than what they get at home, and most of it is down to ergonomics,” says Trim.According to Trim, the workplace needs to be a place where employees can move around and work in with acoustics and advanced technology they may not have at home but will give them a good experience.
Futurist Belinda Silbert says there has been a complete change in consciousness. She adds that people will never accept the idea of what they now perceive to be a slavery of working in an office. “They have tasted freedom in remote work, despite the confines of Covid-19. Along with the increase in the price of fuel, workers will not be willing to pay those prices,” says Silbert. She believes that, in start-ups or businesses with strong company culture, there will be a strong desire to get employees back and restore team spirit. “However, bosses who feel the need to control employees and guide those who are still at entry level, will have a strong impetus to propel people back to work.”
The metaverse will become ubiquitous, says the futurist, with almost all workers being required to collaborate within the virtual space.