Some organisations, especially in the IT sector, recently issued strict orders asking their mid-career professionals to return to the office. Some return-to-office mandates had led to the rise of terms such as coffee badging and office peacocking, which we had discussed recently. But what does this mandate mean from a leader’s point of view?
The underlying reasons for the shift
Guruvayurappan PV, CHRO at Omega Healthcare, says large IT and tech services companies are bringing back employees to the office mainly for two reasons. First, the clients these organisations serve insist that their service providers work from a secure environment and ensure that the work systems are protected from any cyber threats. Additionally, in-office interactions facilitate collaboration and team bonding, which enhances productivity.
Second, employees of big tech companies were always in favour of working from home — even in the pre-pandemic era. However, at home, the unavailability of a good working environment due to distractions, and the lack of visibility of employee performance urged the management to implement in-office mandates.
The policy implications
Anshuman Das, CEO and Co-Founder of Careernet, says in this situation, HR policies must accommodate employee needs to motivate and engage the workers effectively. A good percentage of mid- to lower-level employees returning to office will consist of individuals with family responsibilities and women returning from work sabbaticals. From a policy standpoint, these employees would require a flexible schedule to adapt to the commute. Additional support like creche facilities at the workplace can be an added advantage. Therefore, deploying a hybrid work strategy will be the most favourable option for organisations trying to accommodate, engage and assist employees in the midst of shifts in workplace dynamics.
Guruvayurappan says living costs will increase for employees who had moved to their hometowns but have to move back to the cities to return to offices. Therefore, companies will have to carefully consider policies to accommodate the employees and reconsider the messaging they are conveying by bringing back the workforce to the office. “There are no regulatory compliance mandates from the government regarding in-office mandates. The onus is on the employers to build a work model that combines both in-office working days and work-from-home days to strike a balance between business goals and employee needs. Every company needs to consider customising its work models to see what aligns best with its organisational culture and workforce requirements,” he says.
The impact on work culture
Work from home (WFH) is not a new concept. However, with a multi-generation workforce today, newer challenges are emerging. “The shift from working at home to working in the office will impact multiple aspects of work culture,” adds Guruvayurappan.Das explains that the old guard has experienced the traditional work-from-office (WFO) model and the newer WFH setup. For them, the office has been a second home for years, a place where they’ve built relationships, collaborated on projects and adhered to set routines. The new joinees and those who have the workforce during the era of remote work have grown accustomed to the flexibility of working from home, the absence of daily commute and the other convenience WFH offers.
“These two groups, with their contrasting experiences and perspectives, pose a unique challenge for companies. Bridging this divide and managing the shift in thinking is essential to maintain a cohesive work culture. This is where the concept of the hybrid work culture comes into play. It serves as the middle ground, a compromise that allows companies to adapt to the changing landscape while addressing the varying expectations of their workforce,” adds Das.