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RMIT Online identifies new trend called ‘the office clash’

by Helen J. Wolf
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With most companies returning to work in Australia after the restriction, conflict over the office’s role between business leaders and employees is growing, and tensions are brewing that a new RMIT Online report dubs “The Office Clash.”

The report, The Office Clash: How back work policies divide management and workers, identifies the company’s management and employees with significantly different views on how we should work, the impact of current changes, and the future of the office.

Claire Hopkins, the interim CEO of RMIT Online, said: “At RMIT Online, we have been deeply involved in studying the changes brought about by the pandemic and helping companies and employees adapt and the future of work to reconsider.

“This research reveals significant friction between top management and employees who do not have managerial responsibilities. There is a clear disagreement about hybrid work, the flexibility companies want to implement, and what employees want.”

RMIT Online identifies new trend called 'the office clash'

The survey found that most employees (89%) say organizations want employees back in the office as much as possible, while 91% of non-managers believe employees with for more flexibility.

It also finds that nearly half (44%) of those surveyed returned to the office full-time, although 71% of these workers prefer to spend at least one day at home and 56% two days or more.

The research suggests multiple explanations for the tension between corporate leadership and most employee factors influencing opinions, such as age, commuting, and current work model. However, the main differences are influenced by position in the company.

Managers and non-managers have different views on productivity and why people want a hybrid model and companies wish to have them in the office. Only 21% of those surveyed believe management and teams agree on the best work model. Most executives (58%) agree that employees can be equally productive at home or in the office, but one in four (24%) say employees are more effective in the company. Only 12% of employees believe this to be true.

While managers and non-managers agree that spending time with families is the main reason for hybrid work, there is a difference of almost 20 percentage points between the two groups. While 53% of managers think family time is the main reason for working from home, 70% of non-managers say it is the biggest motivation.

The impact of this collision is huge for companies. Most employees (93%) say flexibility is key when deciding whether to take on a new job or stay in their current position.

Companies that don’t understand how important flexibility has become are losing staff. About one in three managers have failed or risk losing team members because of their flexibility policies.

Firms with rigid work models concentrated 75% of these losses. Nearly a third of employees (27%) think companies don’t know why the office is essential.

The urge to go back, they think, is motivated by tradition or leaders who see the office as a physical representation of their professional success.

Nearly half of those surveyed (46%) believe the hybrid model will remain a central part of work for the foreseeable future, and almost a third (31%) believe the office will be fragmented or decentralized and closer to the place come where people live.

Other report findings include:

Over half (51%) of organizations have a hybrid work model. Two-thirds of these organizations offer employees some degree of flexibility in choosing the days they are in the office. For 74%, the ideal hybrid model allows them to control the desired level of flexibility. Only 5% of companies work completely remotely. Saving money is the second most important reason for hybrid working, according to 60% of employees. Nearly half of the respondents (47%) said companies should identify reasons for returning to the office and be transparent about it. The same number agree that companies should listen more to employees and allow individual solutions. Four in ten executives (41%) believe it is essential for teams to be in the office to build a strong culture and communicate faster. About a third of managers believe team performance is better in the office, and physical presence helps them visualize the team’s work and capabilities. The majority (57%) also say that management likes the office because it is easier to monitor what employers are doing.

Hopkins says: “The conflict uncovered by this survey shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. After a major disruption, companies are still figuring out what to do. Normally, this seismic shift in ways of working means that we all need to create a new normal. And employees will vote with their feet if they don’t get the chance to design this with their employer.

“The challenge for leaders is to understand which activities deliver better quality when performed in person rather than best done remotely or asynchronously. Before the pandemic, offices were believed to enhance collaboration, help support corporate culture, and were a place where junior employees learned from experienced colleagues just by observing them.”

“Now is the time to stop and think about the office’s role. All we can be sure of is that this will continue to evolve and that the companies that test with their team -and learn approach will win in attracting and retaining great people,” she concludes.

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