Are you ready for the return to work?

July 14, 2021

What if work wasn’t a place?

If we cast our minds back about two years ago, working from home was a ‘nice to have’ (but not guaranteed) perk that employees might do once a month. Very few companies were fully remote, and even fewer again mastered the art of managing a distributed workforce. Having employees onsite was the undisputed champion of working models.

Enter a global pandemic and everything was thrown up in the air.

Overnight, millions of employees asked not to come onsite and trusted to do their jobs from home. 

And… they did.

As concerns over compliance and control began to to dissipate, many large companies began to announce that employees would have the option to continue working from home even when the pandemic had been gotten under control.

As vaccination programs roll out and lockdowns unwind, employers are at a crossroads. 

There are now three viable options for the future ways of working.

  1. Fully onsite
  2. Fully remote
  3. Hybrid mix of onsite and remote

Let’s pump the brakes for a second… 

Do we really need to change the way we work?

Do people just want to return to ‘normal’, the way things were?

Surely, things were better pre-Covid?

Hmmm… not really.

According to Gallup, global employee engagement has been improving modeestly but from a very low base. Realistically, the 2021 engagement number is likely to be somewhere around 20%. Hardly an inspiring level for employers.

gallup global employee engagement trend

So, if employees aren’t looking for the way things were, what are they looking for?

The truth is, they… we… don’t really know yet. But we can certainly do better than the way things were.

In a recent survey from Gallup, 59% of people would like to keep working remotely as much as possible even after COVID-19 lockdowns have lifted. While this seems to be a preference, we need to acknowledge there have been enormous challenges with working remotely in a pandemic. 

BUT and there is a but, we need to remember, recent events aren’t a reliable benchmark for remote or hybrid working. The most important factor to consider is that over the past year we haven’t been ‘working remotely,  rather we have been ‘working at home during a pandemic’.

Some companies may think ‘well, that’s not us’, people will be delighted to ‘return to normal’. Other companies will think ‘that’s not us either, we’ve always let our people work from home a few days a month’.

The pandemic opened a window to what is possible for work.

Big changes are coming

The Microsoft Work Trend Index (a global survey of +30,000 people in 31 countries) reported that more than 40% of people are considering leaving their employer this year. 

This is backed up by Prudential’s findings in the Pulse of the American Worker survey that states 25% of US employees expect to look for a new employer post-pandemic.

We know from engagement surveys that employees were not exactly thrilled with their working situations. Gallup reported in their 2017 State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work.

In fact, it’s not only employees who are changing how they work either. It’s our candidates, too. 

remote hydrid work poll

The share of remote job postings compared to all postings on LinkedIn grew 91% from the first week of March 2020 to the last week of April 2020. Amazing candidates increasingly expect flexible work, and as employers, we’ll miss out on great people if we don’t adapt.

From our own albeit, unscientific LinkedIn poll, we can confirm it’s not even as clear cut as remote vs onsite. A third hybrid option seems to be the most appealing to workers returning post-pandemic.

Now is the perfect time to assess what is right for ‘your business’ and ‘your people – both current and future’. 

The pandemic has taught many of us that our biases towards what we know are strong and that changing those habits/behaviours are hard.  

But it has also revealed to us that the perception that ‘office-based working is optimal’ is not based in fact but rather based on opinion (HiPPO even… [Highest Paid Person’s Opinion]). 

It has taught us that remote working can work and most importantly it has reminded us that we are human and that our need for human experience matters in a very tangible, bottom-line way for companies.  

Equally, it has taught us that simply taking a laptop and moving meetings online to Zoom is NOT the answer. Many organisations have a way to go. Employee engagement will not be improved by merely changing location. 

So, in our latest eBook “What If Work Wasn’t A Place?”, we are looking to explore ALL the options and considerations that as employers we face in this ‘return to the office/onsite’. This eBook is not a fait accompli; there is no one answer.  Every approach has pros and cons. 

If you’d like to receive a copy just click on the image below and fill in the short form.

Thanks for reading.


Michelle Fogarty
COO & Co-founder. Proud founding member SERIreland. Ex-Head of HR @ Twitter, Blizzard. Ex-Athlete, a bit broken but still goin!.
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