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To Return to the Office or WFH, That’s the Question!

Remember the time when we used to wake up at least two hours in advance to get ready for the day and commute to work? We can’t anymore.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, corporate culture has witnessed a metamorphosis, probably the biggest since the dawn of the Internet revolution. The acceleration in the virtualization of work is unprecedented and resulted in massive changes in everyday lifestyle, with our workstations now at an arm’s length. This metamorphosis has brought about a huge cultural dilemma for corporates – should employees be made to work from the office or their homes?

The Employer’s Take

Never before have employers tried so hard to decipher the needs of their resources. Today’s employers are caught amid a radical shift in work culture, unlike anything they have seen, and hence have no experience to draw from.

If business continuity, data privacy and management of client deliverables were not enough, ‘the great resignation’ syndrome post-COVID is adding to the woes of most employers. To hold on to their resources, most employers, from Apple to NBC have started asking their employees to start coming back to the office. The rationale is to nip the boredom and exhaustion of working in a virtual setup. We humans, after all, are fundamentally social animals. But concerns about maintaining standards of productivity and the risks involved with remote working could equally be the reason behind the collective calls of employers to return to the office.

However, with a majority of the workforce leaving jobs post-COVID that don’t offer them the comfort of working from home, employers are under pressure to instate a hybrid work environment. The debate about whether this middle path is a short-term or a long-term solution is palpable. Remote working is slowly becoming a hard constraint for employees, with 55% of resources in the US contemplating quitting their jobs if forced to return to the office according to  Morning Consult.

If a hybrid model promotes effective space management and better engagement of resources, it could also bring complexities of resource management, which may result in proximity bias in resources working remotely. The applicability and success of this model will vary from organization to organization, but the key to winning over employees is to try and understand their needs and reward them accordingly.

Pulse of the Employees

Team Building. Productivity. Employee Engagement. Work-life balance.

There is not one employee in the corporate world who wasn’t extensively exposed to the above terms in their office environment in the last three years. While the corporate HRs are still finding their foot in retaining the organizational culture in a virtual set-up, the jury is still out on the actual success of their already drawn efforts.

Today’s employees favour flexibility, freedom to choose their work hours, better standards of healthcare and a higher weightage towards work-life balance. The wave of attrition that is dominating the market substantiates this. According to a 2020 survey by Growmotely, 97% of employees supported a WFH or hybrid setup over going back to work at the office. Being able to spend more time with family, minimal cost of commuting, flexible hours, greater savings, fewer distractions and higher productivity are the most prominent reasons for employees to vie for WFH, as per a survey by Owl Labs.

The Common Ground

Senior leaders are now forced to reimagine their leadership ways and attempt to align the evolving employee goals to the goals of their organization. They need to find a way to connect with their employees and ensure that their work relationship is not transactional but provides the resources with a sense of fulfilment. Granted that employees need to be incentivized financially, but without inculcating a sense of belongingness or shared identity, it will become increasingly difficult for employers to retain talented resources.

Similarly, employees are now looking for a level of autonomy in their job expectations. Post the difficult times faced during the pandemic, they want to prioritize themselves now, and are looking for job flexibility, professional up-gradation and constant growth in the workplace.

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It’s a game of compromises, and organizations need to bring both sections together to incorporate the best of both worlds. By the looks of current market trends, it appears that it would take corporates a lot more than an email to bring their resources back to the office.

Isabel Bartholomeu

Isabel is Senior Lead of Client Operations & Services at Infosys BPM. She has helmed several leadership roles in her career, which spans of over two decades and includes experience working with legacy US carriers in the airline industry.
Isabel is now building the operations team in Brazil for Infosys BPM, which she joined in 2020. She's also the centre head in Brazil, overseeing the regional growth and development prospects for Infosys.

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