If You Build It They Won’t Come…

According to every social scientist across the globe and literally anyone who has been paying attention for the past 2 years, the way people work has now changed – forever. I make this point because there are still leaders who believe things will return to pre-pandemic ways of working. This is fundamentally incorrect and to be frank, very concerning.

Over the last few years every organisation was forced to experiment with the way employees worked, with the vast majority proving that flexible, more digitally enabled working methods were not only effective, but in many instances substantially bumped up employee engagement. Why? Because most people were awarded the one thing they value most…time.

Insights from The University of Sydney suggest that in FY21, the average employee saved somewhere between 90 – 120 hours (2.5 – 3 working weeks) and $3,500 – $6,000 in out of pocket expenses by working from home. So, in essence, many employees tried news ways of working, became used to their new ‘richer’ life experience and as a result are now resisting to return to a more controlled and expensive work-life.

In addition, the pandemic spawned a little thing called the ‘pandemic epiphany’, which is essentially people becoming more aware of their choices in life, along with their ability to have more control over their destiny.
While this is largely restricted to affluent countries where political and social forces allow it, my view is that the pandemic lasted long enough globally to shift human consciousness – at least within very large pockets. This shift has resulted in a swing in personal decision making. A swing to optimise life experience in the short term, instead of chasing the future and robing present day reality. The effects of this swing are complex and for leaders, important, in fact more important currently than anything else.

This year, most companies are investing in reconfiguring and refurbishing their offices to accommodate new hygiene needs and new ways of working, with the mantra being ‘if you build it they will come’ (Field of Dreams, 1986) however, in reality ‘they’ won’t. In addition to building the appropriate environment, leaders have to address the number one reason that top talent is walking out the door: inadequate cultural leadership and a lack of community (sense of belonging).

Organisations will only be successful in striking an effective, sustainable and productive hybrid working balance if leadership hiring decisions are based on the ability of leaders to shape great culture and create a trusted community. Then, and only then will employees begin assessing work environments and other conditions.