Reading the working from home revolution - Stuart Chalmers

National Records of Scotland recently estimated that the populations of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen fell in the year to 30 June 2021 while rural living grew, reversing decades-long trends showing people moving away from the countryside.
Stuart Chalmers, Head of Financial Services for Accenture in ScotlandStuart Chalmers, Head of Financial Services for Accenture in Scotland
Stuart Chalmers, Head of Financial Services for Accenture in Scotland

Official data from the Office of National Statistics has also shown that Scotland has seen one of the sharpest decreases in the number of regional commuters.

Yet while it is easy to see its effect on towns and cities of the great shift to home working, it is perhaps not so simple to understand its impact on people, productivity and talent recruitment. The flexibility gained for both organisations and employees has become of paramount importance, to the point where it is now being championed by government here in Scotland. Yet studies also tell us that people value having in-person time and that certain work is done best when teams collaborate in the same physical location.

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Like many organisations, a large proportion of our people shifted to remote working during the pandemic. Though a portion of our colleagues have worked flexibly for decades, we used this as an opportunity to conduct new research, surveying opinions to understand how remote working was impacting workforces across the world.

Perhaps the most startling fact to emerge from our study of some 5,000 workers and over 1,000 business leaders worldwide was that people who work on-site, in comparison to those who work in hybrid or remote workplaces, feel the least connected.

Some 42% of on-site respondents said they feel “not connected”, versus 36% who are hybrid working, and 22% who remain fully remote. What’s more, business leaders are overestimating the connectedness of their people by 2x.

We also crowdsourced inputs from potential recruits. We found that 50% of respondents identified flexing their location and their daily hours as the most important factor when evaluating a potential employer. Meanwhile, working collaboratively with a team, knowledge-sharing, onboarding and leadership engagement are the kinds of in-person interactions that matter most to them.

Our report, Organisational Culture, from always connected to onmi-connected, concludes that it is easy to confuse the commute from bed to desk with the notion of flexibility. Location is only one small piece of the larger idea of flexibility, which should also consider what people work on, when they work and how. At the same time, the need to feel connected, of being included and having your contribution recognised, regardless of physical location, was critical to a complete and rewarding work experience. In short, organisational culture is better served by talking about human relationships rather than space or place.

Much of this falls to a more emphatic leadership that is transparent and trusted. Leadership skills and practices need to be developed so that individuals feel safe, respected and listened to. Aligning jobs to a clear company purpose is also shown to engage people more deeply in their work.

A robust technology foundation is essential to help people work in new ways, wherever they need to be and collaboration tools empower them to experiment and discover new solutions with a level of autonomy.

However, it is the whole notion of ‘coming to work’ that is ready for a refresh. That means figuring out how teams can maximise the benefits of both time together and time apart – and what matters most to people to make their commute worthwhile. It also requires thinking ahead and designing offices that accommodate people across multiple types of work locations and arrangements.

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The debate about a return to the office needs to move on from being a question about physical space and into a more omni-connected way to build a sustainable company culture. As our CEO, Julie Sweet put it, companies need to ‘earn the commute’ by focusing on how people feel about their jobs, not on where they work.

For organisations that succeed in helping people feel highly connected to each other, their leaders and their work, a 7.4% revenue growth premium is an opportunity that’s also worth taking.

Stuart Chalmers, Head of Financial Services for Accenture in Scotland



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