Future of Work: Work is an activity - not a location

Author - Stephanie Semay Bäckström & Thomas Lange

Among our customers, more CxOs are recognizing that C19 accelerated their digital transformation. Even the most forward-looking, who were in the process of experimenting with hybrid organizations and WFA (work from anywhere) say that C19 has put their long-term plans on “fast forward”.

This catches HR in the crossfire since they suddenly face expectations, particularly from leaders, to be the company’s experts on the subject. It is fantastic when HR is invited to contribute on the basis of a specific business need. At the same time, it is a thankless position since, for natural reasons, practical experience as well as research are at a very early stage in relation to shedding light on how to best handle a dilemma like the above.

This article equips HR with the ability to create the future workplace, with the right balance of work from home, which generates motivation and loyalty. At the same time, we advocate a mindset change from a focus on time to a focus on value.

Working from home: Blessing or curse?
Overnight, we were forced into a global experiment involving working from home, and individual preferences quickly emerged. Perhaps you enjoyed the undisturbed focus? The extra time in the morning with the family? Perhaps you missed your colleagues and the atmosphere that used to characterize the office? Perhaps you recognized both the time saved and the loss of social interaction.

In Ennova’s studies, which examine working from home during C19 in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark among 1001 respondents, we can see that working from home is here to stay. 90% would like to work from home for at least 1 day. 45% of employees prefer to work from home for 3 or more days a week. These tendencies are backed by similar global studies (Alexander, De Smet, Langstaff & Ravid, 2021).

In other words, it is indisputable that a large part of the global workforce has got a taste for the coffee at the home office.

flexible_workplace_us

 

However, we will not make people happy by saving office costs and sending everyone to their home office. The employees who were used to working 3 days or more from home before C19, now want less work from home. We are seeing smaller differences in this with respect to age and seniority (Ennova Nordic Panel, 2021). Therefore, it seems like the golden balance is around 3 days of work from home. However, this controversy is more than just about numbers. Relations have come under pressure. The employees must settle into new hybrid communities of colleagues (NFA, 2021), and leaders must, to a greater degree, generate results through others – via a monitor (Bäckström & Berg, 2021). Therefore, it will be critical to find the right balance between consideration for the working community and the individual worker’s preferences.

Around 30% would consider changing jobs if they were asked to return to “fully on-site” work (Alexander et al. 2021). So look to your right in your team, look to your left, then look at yourself. Statistically, one of you would consider seeking new pastures if top management is stuck in the quicksand of the past and insists on the mantra from the industrial era: I see you, ergo you are working. A managerial assumption that is synonymous with distrust.

The top management of the future will (hopefully) abandon their cassette tape with the mantra above and replace it with the following contemporary and trust-based premise: I have hired a competent and motivated employee and given you a clear purpose and good conditions to succeed. This is why you work.

The choice leads to motivation and loyalty
Which employees are most motivated: The ones that work at the office or those at home? This is a question we have asked numerous times during the last couple of years. However, we need to turn the question on its head.

As the diagram below shows, it is more critical that employees can influence where they work rather than whether they are working at the office, at home, or elsewhere. It is in the actual choice that the employee’s motivation is boosted (McGregor & Doshi, 2020).

Total motvation work remote vs office and choice vs no choice - US

 

Similarly, data from Ennova Nordic Panel 2021 shows that motivation increases if the employee has a high level of influence on the choice, but it also shows that the same applies to loyalty towards the company, which is about faithfulness (do you want to be with the company in 2 years?) as well as dedication (are you willing to put in an extra effort when the boss asks you to?).

 

loyalty_and_motivation_us

 

Several large companies have already chosen to establish guidelines for x number of days of working from home. Even on specific days at some places. This results in obvious savings in rent and operating costs, but if the aim is primarily to cater to the employees, a rigid and centralized solution is hardly optimal.

Therefore, strive as much as possible to implement local authority on the front lines, so that those closest to the day-to-day tasks can assess the extent to which the individual tasks are best suited for the office, home, or elsewhere. This ensures the highest possible motivation and loyalty.

Are you at work or are you working?
The phone is ringing while you are dealing with an email. It is your mother-in-law, so naturally, you take it. Previously, you might have answered with: I am at work, but in the future, you will more likely answer I am working.

The concept of work as a place where we ARE has changed to that of an activity. In other words, into something we DO. As the outdated 8-16 schedule falls apart, in some companies there is a refreshing shift in focus from time to value.

A large part of the types of jobs that allow for remote work can be characterized as knowledge work. For such jobs, it does not make sense to count hours and minutes and magically end at 7.4 hours a day. Sure, if the relationship between time spent and value created is linearly positive, but let’s be honest. Are all the minutes and hours you contribute equal at creating value for your business? And are your opportunities to contribute with value creation equally distributed across the day or across all the days of the week? Hardly.

This kind of time fixation makes sense for simpler and more repetitive tasks, where extra time is easily converted into corresponding extra value. The bus driver can take one more route. The cleaning staff can handle one more floor. The assembly worker can handle an additional x units.
In knowledge work, time is often used as a proxy for value creation, without any consideration. But what if I am logging more hours than most because I am inefficient? Unstructured? Unfocused? Or I just perform tasks that seem urgent but in reality are not particularly important for the company?

The winners of the future are better at considering work as a value-creating activity rather than the amount of physical presence at the office.

To summarize, global studies show that the majority of workers want to work from home to a greater or lesser extent. To ensure the highest possible motivation and loyalty, the employee should influence the choice of whether or not to work from home. In this regard, consider the work as value-creating and measured as value for the organization, rather than a time-based activity measured by the amount of physical presence.

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First published in the magazine ‘HR Guiden’ February 2022 by Dansk HR

Sources and supplementary reading:
Alexander, A., De Smet, A., Langstaff, M. & Ravid, D. (2021). What employees are saying about the future of remote work. McKinsey & Company.

Bäckström, S. S. & Berg, L. G. (2021). Forbliv menneskelig i en teknologidrevet verden. HR chefen, danskhr.dk.

Due, H. M. (2021). Mere stress, flere møder og mindst lige så mange arbejdsopgaver. Lederstof.dk.

Due, H. (2020). Psykologer: Ansatte i knæ efter måneders corona-hjemmearbejde. A4 arbejdsliv.
Due, H. (2020). Dilemma: Skal du tage på arbejde eller blive hjemme på grund af coronavirus? A4 arbejdsliv.

Ennova Nordic Panel (2021).

Hilstrøm, C. (2020). Guide: Sådan arbejder du mest optimalt hjemmefra. Berlingske.
Kehlet, K. (2020). Glansbilledet af hjemmearbejde krakelerer – flere bliver ensomme og depressive. Berlingske.

McGregor, L., & Doshi, N. (2020) How to Keep Your Team Motivated, Remotely. Harvard Business Review.

NFA (2021). Mental Sundhed og Arbejdsfællesskabet under coronakrisen (MESA). Coronatrivsel.dk

Stephanie Semay Bäckström & Thomas Lange
Author

Stephanie Semay Bäckström & Thomas Lange

Stephanie is Director, Leadership & Team Development. She works with organizational development, evaluation, process consulting, coaching and creativity management. Thomas is a Senior Leadership Consultant in Leadership & Team Development and works with data informed leadership and organizational development, process facilitation and coaching.