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Office politics: as offices reopen, how should companies revisit their remote working policies?

Office politics: as offices reopen, how should companies revisit their remote working policies?


For companies in hiring mode, is the return to the office a welcome chance to reset, or does it turn remote work into a competitive differentiator?


After a long and difficult time of restrictions and readjustment, we’re approaching a point where many businesses can start planning for a return to offices and workplaces. But what form will this take: permanent office work, flexible time, unlimited remote working, or a choose-your-own combination of all three?


Many candidates are asking us about hiring policies post-Covid and the simple answer is, there’s no definitive answer yet. Just as there was no playbook for when we went into lockdown first back in March 2020, there’s no manual for managing the so-called ‘new normal’. Now, businesses need to start thinking about their approach, and revise their HR strategies to match.


Already, some of the larger tech companies have gone public about their plans. Google’s intention is that 20 per cent of its workers will permanently work from home, while 60 per cent work in offices a few days a week. (The remainder will be based at other Google sites.) Meanwhile anyone working at Microsoft can only work from home less than 50 per cent of the time. Apple expects its people back in the office this September. From our own discussions with tech companies and HR managers, we know some hiring policies require candidates to be living in Ireland and they must be within commutable distance from the office.


The tech giants’ size and profile mean they often set the agenda when it comes to remote and home working. They can do this because they have the stability, and offer the big salaries, but how long will that keep going? Interestingly, Facebook disrupted this narrative by announcing that employees working for its Irish operations could keep working remotely after the pandemic, even from other countries.


Majority working back in an office is a plot twist few of us saw coming. After the initial wave of working from home at the peak of Covid restrictions was mostly successful, there was an expectation that hybrid working would be the default model for most companies. Higher productivity, no more dreaded commutes… what’s not to like?


For some employers, offering staff the possibility of working from home used to be a differentiator. More than considerations like salary, it was flexible hours, flexible days or remote working that attracted employees. Obviously, the Covid-19 pandemic changed all that. With just a few exceptions, everyone’s had to adopt remote working.


Now, is there a risk to asking most people to come back to the office? Could it lead to a brain drain if companies enforce this rule too rigidly? Could it create resentment among teams if some employees can work from home while others can’t?


It seems clear the big players expect collaboration will improve by having people back congregating in offices, where the creativity and thinking is sparked by having people in a room together. Although technology has helped us to overcome obstacles of working remotely, ultimately people work with people. Good working relationships are the fuel for many teams to do their best work. It’s valid to ask whether long time spent out of an office environment affects culture and employee morale.


Will we see smaller companies taking a lead from the big players? Or, could sectors like financial services, that traditionally struggled to hire and keep top talent, see an opportunity to market themselves as different? Could a flexible approach to location be a competitive advantage?


There’s a practical element to settling on the right answer. Someone living and working in Dublin expects to be paid to certain standard. Suppose a company hires a Java developer who prefers to be based in Carlow, Westmeath, or Mayo. Is it fair for that company to tell them they’ll be paid less, to reflect their lower cost of living? Morgan Stanley’s CEO thinks so. The FT quoted James Gorman saying: “If you can go into a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office... If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York.”


For all the reasons outlined above, it’s not wise just to reflexively tell employees they can work from anywhere. And as tech talent shortages look set to continue, companies need to keep these considerations in mind when planning the return to the office. Taking the time to formulate a HR process that’s robust and well thought out could be the difference between building a great team and breaking it. +353 (1) 295 2850 Jobseekers