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4 types of companies emerge as the Return to Work debate heats up

The fundamental questions on how flexible and who decides are at the root of the debate.

return to work infographic
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Over the last month, we have seen a wide variance in responses from companies as they plan for their employees to return to the workplace post pandemic.

There are 4 types of companies emerging in this debate and they differ on 2 key aspects:

  1. How they define flexibility
  2. Who decides on the degree of flexibility — Does the company define where and when they want their people to do work out of, or does the employee decide on the flexibility they need.

These responses have ranged from the dogmatic to the progressive.

1. The Stuck

The conversations in these companies center around

“Who is asking for change?

“Why do we need to change?

“This is the way we have always worked

“If we give more flexibility, how will we know people are really working??

How to spot them:

These companies are characterized by rushing to get back to old ways of working, embracing old office based traditional, and no desire to change policies. They fundamentally believe that the old ways of working were the best way of doing things, despite the mounting evidence on employee engagement, resilience, mental health and burnout.

2. The Reluctants

The conversations in these companies center around

“Our employees want more flexibility

“But, collaboration can only be in person & innovation happens through chance encounters at the water cooler

“This noise about ‘the great resignation’ is blown out of proportion

How to spot them:

These companies are characterized by a gap in what they say and what they ultimately do. They have a desire to look progressive, and want to have the ‘great employer’ brand, but are hesitant to make fundamental shifts to the ways of working. They often believe that the old ways of working were constructive and needed, and are not convinced about new ways of working shifts. They discount the emerging data on employee engagement, mental health, burnout etc and think it does not apply to them, and hence tend to over index on superficial solutions. These are the companies that have made cosmetic changes to policies to appease their people.

3. The Baby Steppers

The conversations in these companies center around

“Its clear our employees need more flexibility

“We need to change else we will lose our talent

“We worry about the long term impact of this flexibility on collaboration & innovation …

How to spot them:

These companies understand and acknowledge the impact of the pandemic on their people. They also understand that there is no going back, and that the world of work has changed forever. These companies want to make fundamental changes, based on their employees needs. They are willing to take some risk, and extend their toes out of their comfort zone. They are willing to try experiments and pilots, and learn and grow. These are the companies who are introducing more flexible policies but often sticking to a one size fits all approach. You see some of these companies announcing broad mandates, and then taking it back and changing their approach, in their learning journey.

4. The Pioneers

The conversations in these companies are centering around

“Lets listen to what our people want

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reimagine the way we work

“Collaboration & innovation can happen anywhere, powered by technology

“We know our people will make the right choices

How to spot them:

Many of these companies were ahead of the curve before the pandemic, in terms of their understanding of evolving employee needs. They are characterized by their willingness to take risk, announce bold new policies, and openness to test & learn.

Where is your company on this spectrum? And where do you wish they were?

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