Remote working or return to the office? Business leaders weigh out the pros and cons on how to maintain a productive workforce

Remote working or return to the office? Business leaders weigh out the pros and cons on how to maintain a productive workforce

The pandemic has brought a rise in flexible working ‘ has the use of technology benefited staff productivity and morale, or will returning to the office be better in the long run? 

Sunny Dhami, Senior Director of EMEA Product Marketing & GTM for Ring Central, Rachel Carrel, CEO & Founder of Koru Kids, Joanna Dai, Founder and CE of Dai, Lucy Chamberlain, Founder of C&C Search and Matthew Phelan, co-founder of The Happiness Index joined us for the first day of Elite Business on 11 March in the talent and regulations panel, speaking about how to manage employees with a rise in flexible working, employee wellbeing as well as the pros and cons of working from home versus returning to the office. 

As a business leader or manager, it may be difficult at times to understand how your employees are feeling in light of the pandemic. However, Rachel, CEO of Koru Kids explained that her company has a special way of speaking to their staff to uncover their concerns and support them when needed during difficult times. We have a regular practice in our team meetings where we all go around and we have to choose three words to describe how we’re feeling,” Rachel, CEO & Founder of Koru Kids, said. I think the fact that it’s three words is really important because often people will say something like, ‘I’m feeling fine, a bit tired and completely overwhelmed’ and you sort of get the truth in the third word. It’s amazing how often it happens. And quite often they don’t want to go that deep… And one of the things I think is useful about that practice is it normalises these feelings such as I’m feeling annoyed with my partner, I’m feeling harassed, I’m feeling exhausted because I didn’t sleep well…’ these are all just normal human emotions that everyone feels, there’s no judgment in feeling in them and if we just simply acknowledge them, we find that a lot of our meetings go a lot better. 

With the rise in technology and remote working during the pandemic, face-to-face interaction in the office is non-existent. So how can managers check up on their employees without having that human touch? Does technology stand in the way of employee well-being? Sunny, Senior Director of EMEA Product Marketing & GTM for Ring Central believes it is possible to pick up on cues through technology.

We’re in a stage now where we’re not together and we’re all in different locations and if somebody is not feeling great, they turn their video off, and the only clue you’ve got is a voice cue, Sunny said. I think additional technology helps to give you an idea, such as analysing voice. So, if I as a manager I can analyse somebody’s voice I can see they aren’t as upbeat as they usually are, maybe there’s a potential issue here and giving somebody that additional support… You’ve got to take both sides of the coin. Some of it may think they don’t want their manager knowing how they feel today, which is fine but that’s no different to us having a conversation over lunch and me just being a bit more withdrawn. You’ll pick up on those cues. 

Lockdown has forced the majority of the UK’s workforce to work from home ‘ and some businesses have even switched to remote working completely. Though this may work for some businesses, Joanna Dai, Founder and CE of Dai, insisted that she needs a physical presence to run her company due to the nature of her product and that operating her business completely remotely may not be feasible.  

My business is a product-based business,” Lucy explained. We do have samples of swatches and garment construction. The first prototypes coming in, we do need to fit the model to try things on to measure things and you can’t do all that via Zoom or in a conference call. So for us, there’s absolutely a place for the office. And even for teams who can work remotely, coming together to have that brainstorm or water cooler idea spark is so important, and you just don’t have that interaction or that bouncing off each other at home… I think what this pandemic has shown is that you can absolutely be a global company and be virtual everywhere and still have your core product development based somewhere. But I agree, people who can work virtually, there is a premise doing that for us in the future… 

Working at the office doesn’t have to feel like a chore. Matthew Phelan, co-founder of The Happiness Index explained how working from the office should feel like a home, and because of the rise in flexible working, employees around the world can now work from anywhere. So instead of treating the office as a separate working space, we should start treating any space we work at as our home – and feel comfortable in that environment.  

Rather than looking at it as the office, I use the word ‘home’, Matthew explained. And once you use that term, what you have in your head totally changes. Human beings haven’t evolved in the last 12 months; it doesn’t work that quick. Our basic human needs remain the same. And where we will move to is we will need spaces to come together and collaborate. But we need the flexibility to be able to do the stuff like school runs. We will need homes around the world to collaborate… We have this whole conversation with home versus work but I feel we should be allowed to have multiple homes. Because you shouldn’t go to the office and think ‘I’ve got to sit at my desk and do my work, that can be done anywhere’.

Latifa Yedroudj
Latifa Yedroudj

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