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Clash of the Cultures, TALiNT International lead feature

Clash of the Cultures – What will work look like in 2024?

There's been a notable return to in-person working. How are organisations managing this new way of working?

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Mandated office returns have resulted in a 15% increase in resignations in some sectors.
Will we find a “way of working” middle ground?
Transitioning employees from remote work to office-based work can be a complex process.

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For two years now we’ve heard and talked about the “new ways of working”. We’ve gone from pandemic, fully remote work, to hybrid and flexible working. And now it seems the wheel is turning back towards full time, in person working. HSBC will be moving out of their behemoth offices at Canary Wharf and move to an embedded hybrid way of working, while other banks like Goldman and JP Morgan have mandated returns to their offices.

So what is the middle ground? And if there is one, how will we know when we find it?

We reached out to our network of TA and staffing leaders to find out just what’s happening on the ground when it comes to this clash of the working cultures; and how said changes are affecting the way organisations are attracting and retaining talent where if flexible working is no longer on the table.

Industry-dependent

Based on the responses to our survey, it appears that ways of working cultures are different in each sector. Pharma and healthcare industries for example, are largely following an in-person way of working structure with the majority of respondents stating four days in the office per week with one day working from home.

The roles that allow for a more flexible approach to work are sales, marketing and tech roles but by and large, most employers are embracing a hybrid approach to working with a set number of days in the office and at home, and this was seen across industries such as professional services, agriculture, insurance and financial services.

Dialling it back

Transitioning employees from remote work to office-based work can be a complex process, and since some organisations are turning back the dial on remote working, they’ve taken various and innovative approaches to ensure a smooth transition while maintaining employee buy-in.

In an effort to reduce our carbon footprint and become carbon neutral by the end of 2023, we have given up our office leases

Some companies have chosen prioritise sustainability and decided to relinquish their traditional office spaces as part of a broader sustainability initiative, the importance of which is perceived to be moving up the ladder of candidate wants and needs. By going office-less, they aim to reduce their carbon footprint and achieve carbon neutrality by a specific date. This approach reflects a top-down commitment to environmental responsibility, as leaders set the example for the organisation.

Monique Richards, Managing Director at Aquent, a global work solutions company, said, “In an effort to reduce our carbon footprint and become carbon neutral by the end of 2023, we have given up our office leases not only in Australia but around the world. This goal has really been driven from the top down, with our CEO John Chuang leading the way.”

The pandemic proved that for many isolation isn’t conducive to healthy living and Aquent has taken great steps to ensure that even though they are a fully remote organisation, they use technology to allow them to work seamlessly with their teams online.

“Individuals can choose to communicate via video, audio, or shared documents. And if they are feeling creative, they can even meet inside our immersive environment (Metaverse) the Aquent Pavilion,” said Monique.

Some organisations have adopted flexible hybrid models that allow employees to work remotely or come to the office based on their needs and preferences. This approach acknowledges that done well, remote work can enhance productivity and employee satisfaction by offering flexibility and trust in employees’ ability to manage their work effectively. It’s essential to balance the benefits of remote work with the value of in-person collaboration.

Peter Clare, CEO at Relode said they offer hybrid working, too, “We have incentivised group events and prioritised collaborative time in the office but with no actual mandate.”

Peter went on to say that tech companies will not be able to attract the best talent in technology companies if you require in-office working or mandate certain days of the week.

We’re seeing a 15% increase in resignations as staff take remote roles in favour of working in the office.

According to Aimee Treasure, Managing Director at Templeton Recruitment, a contract staffing firm for tech, pharma, finance and retail, they have the best of both worlds in their approach to hybrid working. “Our employees enjoy both in-person collaboration and socialisation, plus time away from the office to focus quietly on tasks involving detail and focus.”

In addition to increasing their time in the office, Templeton have increased the frequency of in-house training and run monthly social events which have included karaoke, games and sports, and Friday lunches are paid for by the company. “We run weekly, monthly, quarterly and biannual in-person social and fun events to provide our teams with real value for coming into the office, ensuring in-person work is focused on training and brainstorming wherever possible, and threading collaboration through our processes at every opportunity.”

You get what you give

Incentivising group events and prioritising collaborative time in the office can encourage employees to return. By offering enticing social events, free lunches, and opportunities for learning and collaboration with leaders, companies create an office environment that employees are eager to be a part of. This approach emphasises the value of the office beyond a place of work.

“By creating a working environment that is giving colleagues an incentive l to come to the office, to meet with other colleagues, to socialise, in a nice and welcoming office space. We are also creating more and more in person events,” says Xavier Güell, Head of Global Talent at AXA XL, the global commercial and reinsurance firm.

According to Jennifer Jones, Head of HR, Oceania at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, they offer 60% of time in office for those who are in roles considered Head Office. “We offer the chance to work for a limited time each year in another country as a way to support our employees reconnecting with their overseas family members.”

Additionally, Takeda has a formal flexible working policy in place. “We created enterprise-wide guardrails (I called them the Flagpoles). Then, we ran leader-led team-based agreements completed through two-hour workshops. Not focused exclusively on days in the office but rather created a ‘Ways of Working’ campaign which included wellbeing, team communication collaboration, days in the office etc. Employees have flex to temporarily swim outside the flagpoles but with leader conversation and team transparency.”

Balancing flexibility with mandates…

While flexibility is valued, some organisations have implemented specific mandates or reporting systems to ensure that employees spend a minimum amount of time in the office. This approach is often driven by the desire to maintain a company culture of learning and collaboration and to avoid potential disciplinary actions due to non-compliance. It underscores the importance of achieving a balance between remote and in-person work.

But surely mandating office returns negatively affects attrition and retention? A head of TA in the financial services sector said that they’ve implemented a mandated, full-time return to in-person working. Attendance is closely policed l and if employees aren’t coming into the office for the desired number of days, the expectation is that there will be a discussion… It will be interesting to whether this approach becomes a long-term policy.

While flexibility is valued, some organisations have implemented specific mandates or reporting systems to ensure that employees spend a minimum amount of time in the office

Paul Howells, CEO at The Eteach Group, said that flexible working is winding down and that they’re trying to find employees who are willing to work in the office full-time.

Managing a return to in-person has proved difficult, “We’re seeing a 15% increase in resignations as staff take remote roles in favour of working in the office.”

He went to say that they will try and wind down their flexible working policy, as currently people can work from home if needed but usually no more than two days per week. He said, “At Eteach we’ve always had remote IT and field sales workers based on their location and shortage skill set, but around 20% of staff do prefer to work in the office and have done so even throughout the pandemic.”

Organisations who wish to retain talent in the future will have to offer flexible working said Dhabia Al Bayaty, Managing Director at TRAC Search & Selection in Dubai. “I think most organisations that are looking to retain top talent are permitting one to three days of remote work. It is vital for a team to meet on a weekly basis. Employees who are not willing to do this should be let go.”

In conclusion, the process of getting employees back into the office has been diverse, reflecting the unique circumstances and priorities of each organisation. Whether driven by sustainability goals, flexibility, mandates, incentives, or regional considerations, the key has been to strike a balance that maintains employee buy-in, productivity, and well-being while preserving the benefits of in-person collaboration. Adaptability and a commitment to employee preferences have been central to this transition.

The general consensus of our audience is that by this time next year, there will be a more solid hybrid work approach, with less flexibility around it. But if the last three years have taught us anything, nothing is set in stone. If talent shortages continue and mandating office returns prove to negatively affect retention, employers might be hard-pressed to shift the goal post again. Ken Brotherston, CEO at TALiNT Partners believes that creative compensation schemes will become a more common tactic to incentivise people back to the office.

Let’s watch this office space.

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