The TW&T Divide

So says the age-old adage, ‘there is more that unites us than divides us’. But is that strictly true?

Many of us hark back to simpler times when race, politics and class were our social dividers of choice but now they’re a little more nuanced. Leavers and Remainers, vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, lager drinkers and craft ale drinkers and now we can add a new one to the list.

Office full-timers and office part-timers.

This may be the most toxic of them all and threatens to open up an unprecedented can of worms.

Is The Three-Day Week Back?

No. At least not in the 1974 sense but those who have been back in the office full-time since ‘Freedom Day’ are a bit peeved, to say the least. In fact they’ve started to refer to those who only come into the office on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as TW&Ts.

And it seems they do have legitimate concerns.

The part-timers say that their hybrid working model makes them more productive, starting work earlier and finishing later – and there is research that comes down on both sides of that particular fence – while the full-timers question why they should all be paid the same if the part-timers are saving hundreds of pounds each month on travel fares, lunches, childcare etc.

The part-timers will say that they can neatly compartmentalise their workloads by taking face-to-face meetings with their various stakeholders in the middle part of the week and are able to focus on their work with fewer distractions on the days when they’re at home. The full timers will say that there’s no oversight when their colleagues are ‘working from home’ and they could quite easily be using that time to go shopping or to the gym while full-timers remain under constant scrutiny.

The Government’s Proposal

The government published a consultation document last month proposing every employee is given the right to ask for flexible working from day one of employment (as opposed to after six months now). They believe, rightly or wrongly that they are creating, as Gordon Rayner so eloquently puts it in the Telegraph, ‘employment utopia’.

Roger Barker, director of policy at the IOD thinks that while this type of government-led social experiment has the potential to be a nice compromise, most companies won’t have thought it through with any degree of clarity.

‘One of the ramifications is that being in the office versus not being in the office creates two classes of employee. No one wants to explicitly state this but not being in the office puts you at a disadvantage in terms of career development, acquiring useful knowledge and so on.’

There are also plenty of employers, boss of VSA Capital Andrew Monk included, who believe that it’s not unreasonable for highly-paid employees to work from the office full time. He said that the proposed legislation set a negative tone that makes others think you can do a part-time job on full-time money.

Perhaps it’s more the visual of a four-day weekend than the actual reality but he also went on to say, ‘you have to work long hours but we’re also paid very high salaries so you can’t expect to be paid a good salary and then not work hard.’

A ‘thou doth protest too much’ scenario possibly. No-one is suggesting that people are going to stop working hard if they’re paid six-figures. As we said, it’s more the visual than reality.

The TW&Ts Stats Back Up The Narrative

Serviced office company Orega recently surveyed 2,000 employees, well over half of whom wanted to adopt the Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday office week. Just 17% wanted to work from home full-time.

Orega’s Zach Douglas said ‘Reports of the office’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Brits have chosen to go back to the office but on their own terms — and businesses are accepting it’.

There is however a danger that as we’ve seen in the business of football, player power – in this case employee power – is at risk of taking over but Guy Spragg, MD of ClearSpace Group thinks it’s time for businesses to wrest power back from the employees, even though it’s not a particularly PC stance to take.

‘Naturally after the pandemic, WFH should and will most likely be part of the daily week, and any companies who do not offer this as an option may be seen as less attractive. So, the days where people should only work in the office are long gone, but the new way of working needs to be a harmonised balance between employee expectations and maintaining business objectives’.

Research from the IOD found that almost two-thirds of bosses expect a permanent shift to between one and four days of remote working per week. HSBC has moved around 1,200 staff to permanent WFH contracts and Grant Thornton say that 90% of its UK employees want to spend less than half the week in the office.

The Not Very Conclusive Conclusion

The complex hybrid cocktail is still very much a work in progress. There are plenty of businesses for whom working from home all or part of the week suits their staff perfectly and then there are lots of other businesses for whom it doesn’t work at all.

There are also, lest we forget, millions of workers who aren’t office-based – shop and factory workers, the transport industry, NHS and medical workers, the emergency services and the trades. A government policy that entitles flexibility has the ability to lead those leaving school, college and higher education to look first and foremost at office jobs which in turn has the potential to create a resource drain on these key people.

What these new options do is present businesses with an opportunity to test how they will implement a more permanent – rather than enforced – system of hybrid working that suits both the employees and the business in the longer term.

Returning to the office has, for many, marked a return to normality but almost all workplaces are facing yet more uncertainty. First it was how to keep staff socially distanced but now, we’ve moved on to how to operate a hybrid working model that works for all.

What is clear that if you try and wing it, you’ll get stuck in the long grass. If you have a clear set of rules and guidelines, a forward-thinking sense of purpose and a genuine desire to unite your workers whenever they are, you’ll be able to steer your ship through today’s choppy waters into the calm – and hopefully profitable – seas that lie ahead.

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