CONTRIBUTOR
CEO,
Sapience Analytics

Near-daily media reports highlight an ongoing debate. Employers want employees to return to the office; employees argue they can be more productive at home. A next-gen work plan guided by impartial workforce data can bring both sides together.

Among the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the fact that the way we work and where we do it has changed for the conceivable future. While some employees have happily returned to the office, working from home or other remote locations remains a viable and popular option. According to one survey, 68 percent of employers want employees in the office at least three days per week, while 68 percent of Americans prefer to work remotely. Nearly as many workers – 64 percent – say they would consider quitting if forced to go back to the office full-time.

 

Despite this employee sentiment, many high-profile companies, including Amazon, Apple, Disney, JPMorgan Chase, Google, Meta and others, have begun mandating that employees return to the office. At the same time, there have been many marque companies such as Microsoft and State Farm that have announced work policies that allow working from home models.

Clearly there are valid arguments from both sides of the debate. A focus on workforce data and analytics can inform both sides and even transform perceptions to facilitate a next-gen work plan that ensures both productivity and flexibility. 

The Return-to-Office Argument 

The argument companies make for the need to return to the office revolves around the 3 C’s:

  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Culture

According to a survey done by resumebuilder.com, two-thirds of business leaders currently require employees to work from the office – a strategy over half believe is vital to improve communication, creativity, and productivity. While these are valid expectations of leadership to drive a successful company, work-from-office mandates are being perceived by many employees as a sign of distrust from their employer.

The Work-from-Home Argument

In contrast, the three most common reasons why employees struggle with return-to-office mandates are anchored in their experiences. First, they arrive in the office to spend most of their day on Microsoft Teams or Zoom meetings. Second, they lose hours of productivity to accommodate for commute time and often question why their employer is willing to sacrifice time that could be better spent productively working. Third, because there is no time spent commuting, many jobs can be successfully worked outside of the traditional 9-to-5 schedule. This has many employees questioning why employers would be opposed to achieving results if employees can do so working from home while also attaining work-life balance.

Yet another reason cited is tied to housing costs. By untethering work from an office, employees can lower their cost of living by working from more affordable locations that are typically outside of large metropolitan or urban areas.

Employers and employees are deadlocked in an adversarial workplace relationship that is being fueled by perceptions. We can bring employers and employees together by countering perceptions through focusing on data.

There is a proven approach that can help businesses arrive at the right decision regarding work location. It starts with data; technology advancements can enable a new modern workplace. The reality is the in-office or work-from-home decision doesn’t have to be one of “gutfeel.” Executive management teams already make long-lasting decisions for their businesses that are supported by data. This workforce location topic should be treated in the same way.

Management Considerations for Work Location Scenarios

Attrition is very costly, and the reality is that attrition is lower, and retention is higher for companies that offer work location flexibility. Work-from-home offers the ability to work outside the traditional 9-to-5 workday, which can be crucial in making the workplace more inclusive. Leaders should recognize the importance that flexibility holds for today’s job seekers.

Sans commute, many employees can leverage the increased time in their day to be more productive. However, there are drawbacks that must be taken into consideration. For some employees, there is a loss of productivity. There can also be issues with onboarding new employees. For some companies, collaboration and culture could take a hit.

Given all these considerations, how do organizations determine what work location scenario is best for their business?

Today, automated workforce data collection, data integration, and analytics can surface workforce activity trends and insight – making the previously unseen visible. Unbiased workforce data that can help companies make and support workplace decisions exists and can be implemented, delivering results within weeks. Businesses are empowered to know what’s really happening across the enterprise so they can determine the best approach to in-office and work-from-home policies. And for those choosing a work-from-home scenario, this data can help optimize how managers manage and employees’ work.

There is no need to continue debating when you can leverage accurate and unbiased workforce data to have an honest data-driven conversation to bridge the gap.

Time to Reframe the Work Location Debate

Companies should focus on reframing the work location debate as one that pertains to productivity, efficiency and overall success rather than solely culture, collaboration and creativity.

The topic of workplace modalities continues to be hotly debated in the press and social media spheres. Yet, data-driven analytics and insights can do away with gut feelings and anecdotes.  Leaders should invest the time to understand the power of workforce analytics. It is a low-cost, fully automated capability that will provide any company with the insights to formulate policies validated by data.