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Focus on the future
18.11.2021

The outlook for WFH

As we move on from the era of lockdowns and the 'need' to work remotely, many companies are considering what steps to take. Returning to the old format seems like a wasted opportunity, no matter how nostalgic people feel for water cooler moments. Employers now have to decide whether salaries for people working from home can finally be on a par with office work. If this is the case, they need to redefine how to evaluate their staff’s performance in meaningful ways. Beyond that, they then have to understand how to proliferate their corporate culture online, finding new ways to sustain it for employees and teams who may never meet in person. Many companies are turning to hybrid models in an attempt to ensure that they have the best of both worlds. However, this also presents the issue of maintaining mostly empty offices, and the question of how to scale back without entirely removing the option to be there. 

The events of the last two years have changed the way all industries think about work. However, despite the seemingly endless parade of statistics from both employers and employees, we are yet to see the broader trends emerge. The reason for this is that we are still, ostensibly, in a state of regulation, unable to move freely – or at least as freely as we are used to. It has also proven a challenge to evaluate key metrics such as worker satisfaction and productivity, given that many companies are still finding their feet in the new normal. Despite this, the statistics keep coming, and confusion reigns on both sides. Business Insider’s July 2021 report, for instance, suggests that remote work in the USA has fallen from 35% in May 2021 to just 14% in June. Conversely, Findstack’s 2021 research suggests that 85% of managers believe remote teams to be the new norm and that 77% of employees claim to be more productive when working remotely. Apparently, there is a sizable gap that needs to be bridged between employer expectations and employee preferences.  

Of course, it is likely that we will see hybrid models emerge, and employers stand to make significant savings in overhead on the back of that. Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics suggests that the average company can save approximately $11,000/year for every person who works remotely half of the time – an excellent incentive to find workable solutions. However, while many companies have started to cajole their employees back into the office, they are seemingly wary of going all in. Instead, working from home appears to have become something of a bargaining chip, with many companies willing to show a greater degree of flexibility on the preferences of their employees as individuals rather than making one sweeping rule for everyone concerned. It is heartening, then, to know that the issue of trust – one of the most tenacious arguments for not having employees work at home – appears to have disappeared. The last two years have demonstrated to managers that their teams can continue to work productively from home. The question now is what systems and tools can companies provide to ensure that their work is as good as it can be. 

The good news for those of us who have grown accustomed to working from home is that the advantages for employers far outweigh the disadvantages. Above all, having a remote workforce clears the path for massive savings in office rents and the sundry overheads. Secondly, recruitment can be reimagined so that talent can be brought in from further afield than would otherwise be possible. 

Statistias recently suggested that the outlook for WFH is most positive in financial services, insurance, IT, and education – all of which can expect the trend to continue, especially given the savings that companies can make. However, the same can’t be said of other industries, especially when it comes to creative tasks or roles which require high levels of empathy such as advertising, health care, and hospitality.  

As for Softline, we are bullish about WFH and ready to help organisations to find the best solutions for them. Off-the-peg solutions may have got us through the immediate issues caused by the pandemic, but it is clear that a more granular approach, combined with the right kind of support to ensure that uptake is as high as possible, is the way to go. 

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