Wait an hour to use an office lift? No thanks. Give staff the work from home choice, forever

Wait an hour to use an office lift? No thanks. Give staff the work from home choice, forever

We've broken the habit of thinking about work as a place you 'go'. Let's continue to see it as something you 'do' instead.

Elevators could delay workers being able to return to high rise buildings during peak periods, with some predicting hour long waits just to get into a lift, due to physical distancing regulations. 

Such lengthy waits seem ridiculous, but it’s not much different to other waits many of us have long been doing prior to the Pandemic to get our feet under a desk in a CBD location. We sit on trains, stand on buses, wait in traffic and accumulate hours and hours of dead time during daily commutes.

In the past couple of months, for those who have been able to work from home, these wait times have disappeared. Time may instead be sucked dry due to other requirements — such as the need to supervise remote learning — but many have seen how removing the commute, along with domestic travel for work, physical events and being physically present during meetings, has actually transformed their working days to enable them to get more done.

Now as things start to open up again and employers are looking to get more staff back to offices, the question is how willing are their employees going to be to actually return? Especially if they’re faced with restrictions that will result in further wait times for things like lifts, along with rules and procedures around what facilities they can use and when.

And how many employees again will be willing to revert to work-as-normal once their kids return to school and back to more structured caring arrangements, when working parents finally have the opportunity to gain the benefits of working from home without having to run a home school at the same time?

The thought of waiting up to an hour — or even really more than five minutes — to get into a lift to go up a high rise building is not particularly appealing and actually absurd to comprehend. Such wait times would come after commuting through traffic that’s predicted to get worse as physical distancing rules state that only 12 people can travel on a bus at any one time and 32 on a train carriage (in NSW). There’s going to be more cars on the road as a result, more congestion, more emissions, and more stressed and frustrated employees.

Susan Ferrier, who heads up HR at NAB, has revealed a survey of NAB employees finding that 45 per cent believe they have been more productive during this period, with another 36 per cent saying their productivity levels have remained the same. It’s an impressive result when you consider how many of those same employees will have been managing work with kids at home and/or hastily put together work from home technology and office arrangements.

Susan also revealed that 80 per cent of the thousands of staff surveyed want the flexibility for remote working to continue into the future.

It’s telling that such a huge majority want to keep working from home, and it presents a huge opportunity for organizations to re-evaluate the need for large offices and expensive real estate, to rethink how they manage employee wellbeing, and to also reduce their overall impact on the environment. We’ve seen the dramatic improvements in air quality that have occurred in cities all over the world these past few months due to fewer cars and other vehicles being on the roads. This week new research published in Nature Climate Change reveals that global daily emissions were down by up to 17 per cent on the previous year in April.

However, the NAB study also revealed that one in five are not that keen on continuing to work from home. The reality is that some staff will be itching to get back to a dedicated office. Maybe they’re lonely at home and need social interaction. Many they’re surrounding by housemates, small kids or in laws, and need the quiet space. Maybe they miss the camaraderie of being physically surrounded by a team.

Now’s the time to give employees something they should have had for some time: a choice about how and where they work. It needs to be an actual choice, not one that carries stigma about how committed you are to the job or additional perks if you’re able to get into the office. And not a choice that leaves some shut out of career opportunities, out of team communications or meetings if they choose to stay home.

Now’s not the time to completely abandon the office. But we’ve broken the habit of thinking about work as a place you ‘go’. Let’s continue to see it as something you ‘do’ instead.

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