Back to the office – no one-size-fits-all

Oct 4, 2022 | Opinion

By Quintin Rossi

Back to the office – no one-size-fits-all

A few weeks ago, the inimitable Elon Musk has joined the ‘back to the office brigade’ by insisting his team at Tesla spend a minimum of 40 hours per week at the office or resign. A pretty firm stance coming from a global leader, and one who has come under fire for being tone-deaf to a transformed working environment. The perspective is growing however, as I recently heard, during a Cape Talk interview, that a large proportion of big firms in South Africa are offering their employees return-to-work ultimatums: come back to the office or face losing your job. Is this a dogmatic approach or is it high time we return to a state of normalcy?

Many top executives are attempting to achieve back-to normal working hours and, in-turn productivity, by returning to pre-lockdown policies. The truth is, the work from home environment enjoyed great appeal from many staff members, citing the freedom and flexibility it provides as outweighing the benefits of in-person work. The ‘great resignation’ is also often attributed to a company’s lack of accepting remote working arrangements. However, recent studies on the topic are proving that return-to-office requirement hold significant merit when it comes to productivity, creativity, collaboration and career growth.

A recent Forbes article provided good reading and reasoning behind the benefits of back to the office for employers and employees. The most significant of these is our sense of community and belonging. Not only do managers prefer the in-person connection, but many reports are emerging that back to the office has lifted morale, improved positivity, and increased contributions from individuals to work towards a common goal. A second interesting point raised by a manager of a financial services company was the drop in inaccuracies and mistakes amongst her in-person collaborating team in comparison to isolated working. Another contributing factor to a happy, productive remote working scenario is that of technology, which plays a significant role in successful remote functioning, be it Zoom or Teams meetings, sales webinars, online board meetings or digital interactions, we are only as good as the systems we employ and many management teams do not see the value of over-extending their budget to support remote working, when in-person is first prize for their team.

At Spear, we can definitely report that our corporate office tenants are supporting the return to office. Although we do notice more flexible working hours and in some cases our tenants have adopted and even re-modeled their office space to support the hybrid system, it seems the trend amongst our corporate occupants is to offer a 3 or 4 day-a-week in office, with the flexibility of remote working on the remaining days.

This compromise seems to be gaining favour, to which most highways in South Africa can attest. While many pro-remoters legitimately argue that work-from-home has financial benefits e.g. lower or no child-care expenses, an end in travel to and from work costs, however leaders are picking up on the drift towards the security and sense of belonging the office environment brings. In fact, the lack of face time has been quoted as a reason that many professionals are leaving their jobs.

The rise in the cost-of-living thanks to petrol price hikes, the increase in interest rates and the knock-on effect this has had on prices in general means that people are appreciating and hanging on to their jobs. To boot, after two years of surviving a pandemic, employees are feeling tired, demotivated and isolated and it is in the drive of getting back to normal that we are finding collective energy and hope to get-up-and-go, and work towards a thriving post pandemic work scenario.

Long may it continue.

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