WFH is here to stay. Stop trying to convince everyone otherwise

Brooke Hemphill
By Brooke Hemphill | 17 May 2023
Brooke Hemphill.

Ever since COVID happened, not a week goes by without another thought piece or article extolling the virtues of returning to the office.

And who might be pushing this barrow? Oh, you know, commercial property executives, extroverts and bosses.

It’s been more than 18 months since we emerged dazed and confused from lockdown. Surely we’re passed this point by now?

The overwhelming groundswell for WFH (working from home) boils down to the simple fact people love it. Denying them the pleasure could mean you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Let’s look at the facts.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 41% of people regularly worked from home in the midst of pandemic lockdowns circa August 2021, up from 30% in 2015. That’s an awful lot of folks who got a taste for being able to chuck on a load of washing during morning tea break. Excuse me for one second while I check the dryer.

A year later in 2022, a US Gallup poll found that just 6% of 8,000 respondents wanted to work entirely on-site.

Closer to home, the November 2022 Media i survey found 43% of respondents were spending three days a week in the office with only 11% there for the full working week.

Coincidentally, staff at both agencies and media owners were happier than ever before. Media i reckons happiness levels increase the more days people spend in the office but they would say that since none of us have Media i screens in our dining rooms. Sorry Chris!

Surely the big takeaway here is that people like to be able to set their own terms. 

Research shows they’d even be willing to take a pay cut to do it with a study commissioned by GoodHire finding 61% of respondents would give up cash money to continue working from home.

It’s a clear warning for companies considering mandates to get people in the office. And if it’s not, this should be: the Gallop poll found employees who don't work in their preferred location have lower engagement, higher burnout and a raging desire to quit. That’s because they don’t feel well-positioned to do their best work or live their best life. And who doesn’t want to live their best life? You know I do, girlfriend.

Look, I’m not saying that people should stay home and never come into the office. We all need to emerge from our “caves” every now and again.

I’m a firm believer that the right amount of people contact is immensely valuable. But let’s be respectful of everyone’s time.

Don’t make people sit in an office all day and do a job they could do at home. Let them stay home unless you’re offering them something while they’re there – whether that’s one of those rare productive meetings, collaboration on a project, or some sort of team interaction.

And yes, for staff that are new entrants into the workforce, it makes sense they will need more face-to-face time to guide and nurture them. But bear in mind, we’re about to see a raft of grads enter the industry that have never known working life pre-COVID. Many completed large chunks of their tertiary education at home instead of in lecture theatres. So they too are bound to appreciate having flex.

The thing about flexibility is that it means different things to different people. So it shouldn’t be a blanket policy that everyone needs to be a TWAT: in the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Spare a thought also for people that may find the office environment overstimulating or overwhelming. This is particularly true for introverts or people on the spectrum.

As a card-carrying introvert, I stand by the fact that working from home makes the time I spend with clients all the more valuable and effective. If I was strapped to a desk for eight hours a day five days a week surrounded by colleagues, I simply would not be firing on all cylinders.

Let’s also take into consideration the people who took the opportunity to get the heck out of capital cities during COVID. For them, coming into the office is no longer a quick ride on the bus. In an industry so often criticized for having its head up its own inner-city latte-sipping bum, the value these people bring to your organisation by being outside of the bubble isn’t to be scoffed at.

As a regionally based introvert who spends most of her days writing, I’m all for hybrid working. Even for people that don’t sit at the intersectionality of all that, it allows them to better manage their work/life balance. Stop trying to make out like it’s bad for us. 

It's time to say hooroo to the notion that productivity can only happen within the walls of a tastefully decorated former Surry Hills warehouse. Everyone knows the best ideas come from a cat on your lap and a cup of tea in hand.

Let's raise a toast (virtual, if you prefer) to hybrid work, where pants are sometimes optional, but job satisfaction is off the charts.

Brooke Hemphill is a former journalist turned PR specialising in media, marketing and advertising.

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