Why small businesses can’t afford to enforce in-office mandates

There has been no shortage of headlines recently about large multinational corporations mandating a full-time return to office work

There has been no shortage of headlines recently about large multinational corporations mandating a full-time return to office work

There has been no shortage of headlines recently about large multinational corporations mandating a full-time return to office work. Employees may balk, but the leaders have myriad reasons for the choice: expensive commercial real estate leases that must be utilised, and the perceived simplicity of a one-size-fits-all approach when you have tens of thousands of employees—to name a few.

But what about small and mid-sized enterprises (SME)? These businesses have largely been left out of the conversation, leaving many SME leaders to quietly enforce in-office mandates knowing that it won’t make headlines or generate large-scale protests.

Does that make it a smart move? Evidence suggests that focusing solely on where work is taking place is only half the equation.

Family ties

SMEs may rationalize full-time in-office mandates because the relatively low number of employees makes for a tight-knit group. Don’t they need Friday pizza parties and water cooler talk to stay engaged with the organization? Aren’t they a family? And don’t families stick together?

I’m not here to weigh in on the “we’re a family” debate. I am here to suggest that even families—healthy ones—trust each other to manage their own lives.

The in-office mandate is the helicopter parent of managerial tactics. It assumes that employees must be actively supervised, in-person, to ensure that they’ll do the right thing. It puts the emphasis on where people work, rather than what results they’re producing. 

Many parents will tell you that obsessive micromanaging tends to create savvier rule-breakers, not rule-followers. Again, it’s not my place to tell anyone how to manage, let alone parent. But if you can’t trust your team members to do the right thing unless you’re looking over their shoulder, might you have a bigger problem on your hands?

Employees have spoken

What do employees want? What will ensure that they will produce the results leaders want, while staying engaged and loyal?

These are big questions. Fortunately, we don’t have to wonder. We have the answers. 

A recent survey of 8,400 office workers from around the globe delivered clear results. One of the most notable takeaways: a glaring “preference gap” between how many office workers want to work a remote or hybrid schedule that they control, vs. how many office workers are allowed to do so. An overwhelming majority, 71%, would prefer to either work fully remote, or work a hybrid schedule where they get to pick the day(s) they come into the office. And yet, fewer than half—41%—are permitted that type of schedule.

In the U.S., one in five office workers are even willing to take a pay cut to have the chance to work remotely. 

What do leaders think?

Here’s the real head-scratcher. It seems that employers are not only aware of these preference gaps, but freely acknowledge the benefits of remote and flexible, hybrid work. 

But they’re not doing anything about it. 

More than 4 in 10 of the C-suite surveyed say they’ve called employees back into the office five days per week. And yet, 71% of leaders surveyed say that remote work positively impacts employee morale. And if those leaders need more evidence in favor of flexibility, a whopping 74% of employees who responded say they are more productive now than they were pre-2020.

Mind the gap

Clearly, there’s a major disconnect between what employers enforce, and what employees want—and even a gap between what employers seem to perceive as best and what they actually do.

What’s the holdup? What’s stopping these leaders from fully embracing a flexible, hybrid work landscape?

Here’s hoping it’s not entirely down to the micromanaging/helicopter parent angle. After all, the bottom line is the bottom line—and if employees are more productive in a flexible environment, that’s a win-win for all.

Evidence points to one major factor that determines whether or not flexible work landscapes will be successful:

Are the right tools in place?

The toolbox for success

It’s understandable that leaders would be skeptical about releasing employees beyond the neatly organized, firewalled and perimetered walls of an office. Even those who aren’t interested in micromanaging may be concerned—rightfully—about security in the remote and hybrid work landscape, especially when BYOD is involved.

Are employees accessing sensitive company information on unsecured personal devices? Are they accessing unsecured personal information on company devices? Are they on public Wi-Fi? Or did that phone get lost somewhere? Did they click on a phishing link?

Modern hackers are relentless, and that means cybersecurity must be as well. Any work landscape—regardless of the model—could benefit from a streamlined, end-to-end platform that maps, manages and secures every endpoint, everywhere. That even goes for full-time in-office workers, since the days of leaving all your work devices in the cubicle and never accessing work data elsewhere are long gone.

Security is only one part of the equation. The contemporary work landscape also demands tools for optimized collaboration and streamlined workflows, regardless of where workers are located.

A secure, seamless and intuitive toolbox is an essential element in a strong Digital Employee Experience (DEX), which is a leading marker of workplaces where workers are productive, engaged, and loyal.

Small and mighty

Don’t let your size be an excuse to force a workplace model on your team. A flexibile hybrid schedule might feel like “letting go,” but evidence suggests that it’s key to attracting, retaining and engaging top talent. Empower your team with the right tools to work securely and productively, and you’re set up to win.

Helen Masters
Helen Masters

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