Is Working From Home Working? Insights from AltoPartners 2020 HR Survey

November 09, 2020
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Is Working From Home Working

As the working world emerges cautiously from the Covid-19 pandemic, employers across all sectors will be looking at the prospect of their staff working from home on a permanent basis.

The agile workforce, amplified by global lockdowns, has also demonstrated that working remotely is not only economically savvy, it is the most obvious way to mitigate a company’s environmental impact.

Results from a survey by AltoPartners among its clients, titled ‘HR Trends Report 2020’, show that numerous European companies had already begun to embrace the agile workforce trend even before COVID-19 struck; largely because it dovetailed with their policies to reduce C02 emissions.

French aerostructures and interconnection systems company Latécoère, has committed to attaining 14001 certification (criteria for an environmental management system) by 2021, and aside from metals recycling and using electric company vehicles, remote working is now high on the company’s agenda.

“We have had a telework (work-from-home) policy in France for the past year, and because of the strong demand, we will widen the scope (of this new work model),” said Herve Blanchard, HR director of Latécoère.

Similarly, Butagaz, the liquefied gas and energy distributor, encouraged telework from early on as an economical objective, with the initial aim being to “improve the quality of life of Parisian employees subjected to long commuting times”. The ecological benefits followed from there.

In its quest to become Co2 neutral, meanwhile, Ordina, one of the largest IT service providers in the Benelux, boasts a flexible work policy that includes working from home based on their ‘Principles for Working Together Remotely’, ‘warm sweaters days’ with low heating, and office closures over Christmas/New Years. Ordina also offers its employees free public transportation, promotes virtual meetings instead of travelling, and plans to only lease electrical vehicles from January 2022.

Not all industries lend themselves to an agile workforce, however. While the advertising, accounting, consulting, legal and education sectors are natural contenders, other sectors like IT and financial services are not. In fact, any sector classed as an essential service during the COVID-pandemic and subsequent lockdown is unlikely to ever transition to working from home on any kind of permanent basis.

At best, COVID has caused a rethink and a relaxation of work from home policies among companies that would previously never have considered it a viable alternative to the nine-to-five office culture. Global market maker IMC Trading, which accommodates hundreds of people daily at their offices in Amsterdam, New York, Chicago and Sydney is among many corporates that have reviewed their work from home policies in the wake of the pandemic. Maya Chapman, head of HR at IMC Trading explains: “Prior to COVID-19, working from the office was definitely the preferred option. We have however subsequently changed our view of the way we needed to organise our business with the result that traders now work as successfully from home as our technical staff and business support teams.”

But just because it’s possible doesn’t make it preferable. Post-COVID, all indications are that while companies will be better equipped and have more experience of employees working from home, there is a strong desire to get people back into one place.

As lockdown levels begin to ease, we can expect to see more tension between those who prefer working remotely and those who need the vibrancy of an office environment- whether it’s for the chat or the super-fast Wi-Fi. The jury is out though, on whether it’s an effective way of working in the longer term. Ultimately, it will come down to leadership and the culture they choose to promote.

Says Pieter Ysbrandy of Leaders Trust / AltoPartners Netherlands: “Lockdown was not just an extraordinary social experiment; it also demonstrated the clear and unambiguous impact that the act of conducting business has on the natural world. All around the world, on social media, people marvelled at clean air and birdsong. If lockdown had one positive advantage it made us realise that we need to use our collective ingenuity and innovation to reduce our ecological footprint because working from home certainly worked to improve our built environment. Making more and better use of digital technology to stay connected without travelling is a major contribution to our well-being. But it can’t end there. Organisations need to be actively rewarding employees for making sound ecological choices both personally and professionally, such as those companies who offer more leave days to people who use trains over planes to get to their holiday destination and offer incentives for employees who opt to cycle, carpool or use public transport to get to work.”

“What I love about this profession is that these issues are all interwoven under one big leadership umbrella: it takes a special set of leadership skills to manage remote teams; and it takes a certain mindset to encourage the levels of diversity that breed out of the box innovation. To solve the climate crisis, we need leaders who can do both.”

With profound thanks to the HR directors who sat down with us at the start of 2020 to explore their ideas around five key themes: HR as a strategic driver; Emerging technologies and innovation; Building Diverse teams; The impact of climate change; and Bridging the skills gap amid changing demographics. These posts are based on those interviews.