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It’s been another busy few days in the working from home wars

TALiNT Partners’ CEO Ken Brotherston on the swinging pendulum of WFH trends.

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I was especially intrigued by L’Oreal’s policy of insisting on more Fridays spent working in the office – at least two Fridays in the office a month, according to Nicolas Hieronimus, L’Oreal’s Chief Executive. He said he knows “so many employees of so many other companies who have been working from home for months, that have absolutely no attachment, no passion, no creativity”. Given he has 87,000 employees of his own to look after, how he has the time to check up on the performance of so many other people in so many other companies is unclear ­– as are the methods by which he measures their passion and creativity, but there you go…

At least L’Oreal only want you in two Fridays a month. Over at Amazon they are taking a different approach and apparently starting to block promotions of people who are not in the office three days a week. Quite how this will apply in practice will be an interesting question and one, I suspect, which will keep employment lawyers busy in the years ahead.

On the other side of the argument there were two striking pieces of information: the US jobs report in January showed the creation of almost double (335,000) the amount of jobs forecasted. This bodes very well for job seekers rather than employers. The UK didn’t quite reach such giddy heights unfortunately, but UK employment rose in January for the first time since August and there are increasing signs of a sustainable recovery after a pretty torrid last six months of 2023.

The WFH pendulum was always going to swing back from completely remote working to somewhere in the middle.

So, in the game of workers vs employers it’s currently looking like a score draw but there is still a lot to play for.

The WFH pendulum was always going to swing back from completely remote working to somewhere in the middle and 2-3 days a week always looked like the norm, so I get that employers feel the need to enforce what looks like a perfectly reasonable policy. And I get that it can be especially galling for employees who play by the rules and make the effort to be in three days a week to see other colleagues seemingly doing what they please.

But companies are facing a difficult balancing act to ensure they have the right people in the right roles in the right place and there is clearly no one-size-fits-all approach, as reported on in a feature of TALiNT International written last year. Likewise, employees need to make their own judgements about what the long-term effects of them being disconnected from their colleagues might be regardless of whether their employer has an explicit policy or not.

There is undoubtedly an element of truth in the saying, “If your job can be done from home, it can probably be done in a different country, or worse, by AI…”

But what we don’t need are blunt instruments of blanket policies or ridiculous statements from CEOs. (To be fair the CEO of Goldman Sachs started it when he called working from home an ‘aberration’ in 2021).

Companies are facing a difficult balancing act to ensure they have the right people in the right roles in the right place.

TALiNT Partners’ Global Advisory Board shared some great insight when we asked them about the key talent trends for 2024 when they suggested we need to move the debate beyond WFH and into a proper analysis of productivity including  especially the potential impact on real estate. Another favourite conspiracy theory of mine is that corporate CEOs are put under pressure by their hedge fund investors to get people back to the office to protect their commercial property investments!

If you’re interested, our Advisory Board also suggested that a proper debate about “pay vs. purpose” needs to be had as well as well as a far more strategic approach to the utilisation of contingent labour.

On that final point, there are some incredibly important questions about the likely next government’s approach to contingent labour which need asking but that’s for another post.


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