Meike Escherich
Meike Escherich (Associate Research Director, European Future of Work)

Not Going Back to the Office Full Time

If you bring together a group of senior managers and ask them what the most pressing concern is in their workplace strategy, the most likely answer will be, “How can we get our workforce back into the office?” Nostalgia about the “good old days” reassures them that work is better done in the office. A buzzing office at full capacity is often taken as a sign of high performance.

Our data shows that 68% of European employers are determined to have employees back full time in the office (IDC FoW Survey, 2022). Meanwhile, workers are demanding greater flexibility and a choice of where and how to work.

Some employees want to be in the office, while many want to “balance their lives” and family obligations. Our data shows that compared with hybrid staff, employees working onsite five days a week are 10% less likely to recommend their employer, meaning they are less loyal and more likely to switch jobs.

About 73% of office workers in Future Forum’s future-of-work study say they are open to new jobs if they are dissatisfied with the level of flexibility they are offered.

In the wake of a recession in Europe, however, many businesses are reluctant to invest in the technologies needed to transform their organisation into a digital-first workplace for the long term.

Our survey data from December 2022 shows that concerns around geopolitical tensions and labour shortages remain high in Europe, with inflation having the biggest impact on spending plans for 2023. 70% of organisations are planning to significantly reduce their IT spend in 2023 (IDC FERS Survey, Wave 11, 2022).

Many managers need to seriously consider whether a return to a traditional work policy will enable their business to survive in today’s world. A typical organisation has two generations of digital natives in their workforce (Millennials and Gen Z). Employees are key stakeholders in the evolution of their workplace, and their interests and preferences must be considered. Organisational culture needs to evolve and keep pace with social changes. The alternative, in form of a non-negotiable “everyone return to the office” strategy, would cause more harm than good in terms of business outcomes such as talent attrition, quiet quitters and lower productivity.

The Digital HQ and Why It’s a Must-Have

So, what is the way forward? A digital HQ that is accessible to all — those in the office and those working away from the office — can be the foundation for a more flexible work environment that drives performance, loyalty and other positive business outcomes.

Platform vendor Slack defines the digital HQ as “a single, virtual space to connect people, tools, customers and partners for faster and more flexible work”. Contrary to most assumptions, a digital HQ does not imply that people never meet in person.

Yes, the workplace is digital by default, but people will still get together in their office. However, they do so for team building and collaboration, social connection and networking, or training.

The understanding is that going to the office to replicate an at-home work pattern that focuses on productivity would be a waste of time. As a result, the office — or “physical headquarters” — is being reimagined less as a place of routine and obligation and more of a centre for driving company culture and values.

These new offices emphasise free-form flexibility, offering hot desks, huddle rooms and smart meeting rooms. However, too few companies have given thought to the workings and architecture of digital headquarters. And given that so many workflows and team collaboration efforts now happen in the digital space, that seems like a serious lack of imagination and an invitation to failure.

To ride the wave in a challenging labour market, companies must prioritise attracting talent and keeping existing employees motivated. By enabling employees to connect and collaborate from anywhere, a digital HQ helps companies to provide the flexibility that today’s workforce demands.

All workers can feel included and productive in a digital HQ, no matter where they live or what their daily schedules might look like. Flexible work practices are also essential to building inclusive workplaces, which is top of mind for many employers as diversity, equity and inclusion have become a priority in recent years.

A digital HQ can break down silos, unite teams in an asynchronous work model and boost security. Employee and customer experience will benefit from that increased agility and create a stronger culture as a result. The fact that 56% of European companies feel they are not ready to meet current and future work transformation requirements should be a wake-up call for those trying to survive the coming storms of disruption.

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