Afraid of going back to office? EY survey reveals what your bosses are planning

There is no doubt that the question of the future workplace is on the mind of both employers as well as employees but few are willing to address it head on.

More than 18 months into the pandemic most employees working from home now dread the thought of going back to office, waking up early, wearing formals and battling perpetual traffic on roads. While the preference of most employees is clear in favour of work from home, it is employers who will have a major say on the issue. EY recently conducted a survey which had more than 1000 business leaders across 25 industries as respondents to gauge their mood and get insight about their future plans. Earlier, EY had conducted a similar survey with employees from different sectors to understand how they envisage their future work-environment.

Challenges before employers
One of the biggest risks in the long term highlighted by employers will be to establish fairness and equity among employees especially when few will be called to work from office while the other set enjoys a flexible work environment. 53% of employers acknowledged that the ‘have and have not’ dynamic is bound to grow among different sets of employees. Another challenge that besets the industry leaders is that of retaining talent and not compromising with productivity at the same time. Half of the surveyed employers said that retaining talent and offering flexibility at the same time will be tricky.

Anurag Malik, Partner, People Advisory Services, EY India said that the biggest danger before employers is their inability to provide clarity about their hybrid work and return to office plans. Malik further said that eventually employees might move to organisations where flexible work culture plans are not only clearly communicated but also fairly and clearly implemented.

Work from Home: Elephant in the corporate room?
The EY survey draws attention to a major communication deficit between employers and employees about post-pandemic work culture. The survey found that less than half of the employers have actually communicated the future plans to their employees leading to potential disconnect on issues of flexibility, work=culture and productivity. The survey found that only 46% employers have actually taken steps to communicate their future plans to the employees in some form. The remaining 54 percent of employers are either still planning or waiting to communicate in clear terms their future plans. While employers fear the repercussions of hurriedly taking a mis-step, the restlessness and uncertainty among employees is also growing especially when the economy has largely opened up with minimum Covid-19 restrictions. There is no doubt that the question of the future workplace is on the mind of both employers as well as employees but few are willing to address it head on.

Discordant voices on business travel
Interestingly, the survey has found contrasting trends among employers and employees on the need of business travel. With Zoom and Google meets fitting in seamlessly into the work culture, about 63 percent of employers preferred decreasing their business travel after the pandemic. However, the surveyed employees strike a discordant note to the same question as 90% employees said that they would like to resume business travel after the pandemic.

Work-From-Home gaining traction across the board
A major hurdle that never let Work-from-Home find acceptance earlier was employers’ fear of not being able to measure productivity of the workforce outside office. However, after almost 2 years of the Work-from-Home culture, both employees as well as employers no longer think that productivity is unmeasurable in a flexible work environment. Both employers and employees are in consonance on this front as about 83% employers and 85% employees think that productivity of the workforce can be measured from anywhere, the survey noted.

Will Work-from-Home continue post pandemic?
The EY survey found that 61 percent of the employers are mulling to make moderate to extensive changes in order to facilitate hybrid working. The EY survey conducted with employees across sectors found that 90 percent of employees want flexibility even after the pandemic is over.

Resistance from Business leaders
Despite the fact that the majority of employees overwhelmingly want flexibility after the pandemic, a substantial portion of about 39% employers have dug in their heels and still expect the workforce to join back office full time after the pandemic. Significantly, not all employers in this group head industries that need employees’ on-site presence. There are organisations which can decently operate virtually but their heads still want their workforce to work from office full time post pandemic, the survey highlighted.

The survey crucially highlighted that only few employers have actually formulated their post-Covid work environment plans and communicated the same to their workforce. Apart from tackling major challenges like productivity and operational requirements, employers are also wary of other challenges on the horizon including retaining talent, ensuring fairness and equity while deciding the contours of future work culture. However, one thing is clear that after over 18 months of Covid-19 induced churning, the workplace is not going to be the same.

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