A recent survey by KPMG found that two-thirds of the 1300+ CEOs surveyed anticipated a full return to the office by 2026, with 87% of global respondents suggesting that both remuneration and career progression could be linked to physical office attendance in the future.
Indeed, some major tech firms – Google, Amazon, Meta and, ironically, Zoom – have already called for an end to fully remote working and are mandating that employees spend a minimum number of days a week in the office.
In some respects, this sounds like an unwelcome return to the culture of ‘presenteeism’ that has long been a feature of many workplaces, and which fails to recognise the advantages to both employee and employer of more flexible working practices.
At the same time, according to some reports, there is evidence that presenteeism has not only remained, but actually got worse with the move to a more digital workplace.
Instead of censuring staff for their physical absence, business leaders who want to see a return to greater office-based working should instead be emphasising the positives of spending time with co-workers in a collaborative environment.
One of the things I miss about full-time corporate life is being around young people and hearing their perspectives. I learned something every day from younger people and, hopefully, I was able to guide them in return and help them get the right support for progressing in their careers.
I’ve written before about the fact that, all too often, employees over the age of 55 are often written off by employers. They are assumed to be simply waiting for retirement when in fact they may have a lot to give – and the desire to continue giving, beyond retirement age.
If companies are thinking seriously about their succession plans and training up the next level of management and leadership, it can be a powerful model to have staff at the upper end of the age spectrum retained in a way that is beneficial to younger staff.
These days there is so much more support than there was at the start of my career to help young people build a career plan and create their personal brand. But much of that support comes through being immersed in the office environment, and from senior members of staff actively mentoring junior employees.
I feel passionately about the need to maintain positive interactions between employees at both ends of the career spectrum.
Business leaders have a duty of care to take the temperature of their staff on a regular basis and provide opportunities for employees to talk to their managers about their career aspirations, and about what their employer can do to support those career plans.
Widening the pool of ideas by engaging employees of all ages in strategic discussions is also important, and a good way to enthuse younger employees.
It’s fundamental to keeping employees engaged and excited about working for you so that they can see a path for themselves. The most important thing for any working person is to wake up and look forward to an exciting day at work ahead.
On the right path
One personal example of where the leadership interacted with staff in a way that made them feel more engaged was when I was working for a large corporate IT firm
Our office was very dark and a little depressing. We agreed on funding for a refurbishment, and were going out to tender for quotes on the design, when a number of us on the leadership team said, “Why don't we ask our staff to do it? They're the ones that need to be excited about coming into this office.”
We ran a competition to generate ideas from our staff and their designs were amazing. A group of younger employees came up with a design for the office that was adopted, and it revolutionised the space. People got a real buzz out of coming into the office that they designed.
Clearly, nobody can be enthused about their working life every day of every week, but if your staff never feel that way, then both they and you, as their leaders, need to think about why they don’t have it, and what you need to do to change the situation and get them on the right path.