work-in-office or work-from-home arrangements

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If an employer doesn’t offer the right mix of compensation, training, culture, and quality of life, a high-value employee can easily find one that does.

In a post-COVID era, which is better: work-from-office (WFO), or work-from-home (WFH)?

While there is no clear-cut answer, there are pockets of disagreements between employers from different regions, according to The (Uncertain) Future of Work, a global study from Universum and INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute (EMI). For instance, more than three in 10 (36%) employers in the APAC region favour working in office for most of the time, as compared to one in 10 (10%) employers in the Americas.

Additionally, more than one in two people in India, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia want to be in the office the majority of the time; while "fully in office" was voted the most popular choice in India as well as Mexico.

Richard Mosley, Global Vice President of Strategy, Universum shared: "The research shows employers must pay close attention to demographic and regional differences when making decisions about hybrid and virtual work. What may be overwhelmingly true in one country is decidedly less so in another, and there is even more variability when looking at generational and gender differences."

These are, Mosley added, important to note as companies may find certain employee cohorts gravitate to specific choices (for example, women may choose to work virtually more often), and companies have not fully worked out the effects of these different choices.

Saying no to work-from-home?

Differences aside, much of the debate, based on the report, hinged on employer-focused metrics such as productivity – which is a top concern for companies that don’t offer WFH arrangements.

While productivity is a fair consideration, analysts believe that as employers build their long-term plans for hybrid working, they should take a nuanced approach – and they must consider three key elements in doing so:

  1. Productivity: To what extent will hybrid work affect employees’ productivity, and what mix of work formats will balance productivity needs and employees’ work preferences?
  2. Staffing: Will hybrid work (or the lack of it) increase turnover? What amount of flexibility will meet employees’ needs?
  3. Culture: How does a company communicate its identity and values when employees are not typically face-to-face?

By separating these unique issues, employers can plan, measure, and optimise each one, instead of "focusing too heavily on a single issue" to steer planning.

What’s more, employers have to understand that they may no longer be calling the shots — the report noted that if there is something the pandemic and the Great Resignation era have brought about, it is the shift away from top-down decision-making about employee experience, and to data-driven, employee-first strategies that boost retention and loyalty.

Time to say yes?

There is more than meets the eye.

There are employers who believe that hybrid and virtual work can improve employee wellbeing. Among those who say yes to virtual work are doing so for the workforce’s work-life balance (61%) and wellbeing (60%). And those who plan hybrid work are doing so for enhanced wellness (63%), as well as other important wellness-related priorities such as fewer commuting pressures.

On the other hand, employers are also fully aware that hybrid and virtual work are not the be-all-and-end-all. Seven in 10 (70%) reported they’re concerned that hybrid work may result in lower levels of social/cultural bonding, and close to half (46%) are concerned about the negative impact on employees who are not eligible for WFH. On top of that, more than four in five (83%) say their employees are "worried about missing out on social connections with co-workers" when WFH.

Where does the future of work go from here?

Whether an employee’s top priority is better quality of life, more flexible hours, or more robust training in 2022, analysts revealed that if the employer doesn’t offer the right mix of compensation, training, culture, and quality of life, a high-value employee can easily find one that does.

It is noteworthy that the concoction is no easy feat because what matters most varies significantly by country and region. To the workforce in Americas, hybrid work offers a chance to access a wider and more inclusive talent pool, while to those in APAC, however, hybrid work promises enhanced employee wellness.

Further, what matters most also varies between generations of workers. Young people seem at best uncertain about the future of virtual working, with some preferring to work in person. Meanwhile, Millennials and Gen Z worry more about the lack of training and career opportunities in hybrid and virtual 'future of work' scenarios.

As such, employers are urged to ensure a global talent strategy and EVP that can flex to local conditions — which means drilling down to details country-by-country, as well as keeping an eye on younger employees; ensuring hybrid/virtual formats are an asset to inclusion efforts; reframing its EVP, and building a culture of trust.

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The report involved 650 human resources and talent management leaders from 50 countries, and was conducted from December 2021 to January 2022.

Image / Unsplash

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