The companies rejecting the work-from-home concept
Some high tech companies are trying to adopt a flexible hybrid work model, but others still demand employees show up at the office five days a week. So will hybrid models stick around, or is it just another fading fad?
This article first appeared on October 18, 2021 and is being reshared as part of CTech's Top 10 stories of 2021.
Employees continue to work remotely amid the pandemic, and hybrid work - from the home and the office - has become the new norm. Since March 2021, several companies have transitioned to a total work-from-home model. A Microsoft survey found that over 70% of employees are interested in flexible work options, while 65% crave face to face meetings with their co-workers in the office. Microsoft concluded that flexible approaches aren't going to disappear, and that hybrid work is the future.
Other surveys tell a similar story. Most employees want maximum flexibility when it comes to choosing whether to work from home or the office. On the other hand, employers are more concerned with preserving corporate work culture and the bond to a workplace that is formed when employees arrive every day, but only a fifth of employees would like to return to a five-day office schedule, the PWC firm found. According to a FlexJobs Corp. survey, most employees who worked from home during the pandemic even admit that if their workplace would require them to return to a five-day schedule, they’d look for a position elsewhere. The hybrid work model isn’t going anywhere. That is why most large high tech companies - especially software ones - aren’t embracing the five-day-a-week office model. Some are even considering shortening the work week to four days.
It isn’t easy to find high tech companies who only work out of the office these days. While there are some who develop hardware - like medical devices or robotics - whose work requires physically coming into an office, that isn’t the case for software companies. On one hand, the choice of where to work allows employees plenty of flexibility, relative autonomy, and enables them to better manage their time. On the other hand, it’s a big headache for employers since aside from the logistical aspect, it’s far more difficult to cultivate a corporate culture, or instill a sense of belonging in employees, and it’s the workplace that suffers. This is especially true once new employees come on board.
More than 75% of C-suite executives recently surveyed by McKinsey report that they expected the typical “core” employee to be back in the office three or more days a week. While they realize that the great work-from-home experiment was surprisingly effective, they also believe that it hurt organizational culture and belonging. They are hungry for employees to be back in the office and for a new normal that’s somewhat more flexible but not dramatically different from the one we left behind. In stark contrast, nearly 75% of around 5,000 employees McKinsey queried globally would like to work from home for two or more days per week, and more than half want at least three days of remote work.
We are living in a time where the high tech industry is immersed in a fierce competition over talent. Despite the aches and pains, once companies understand that flexibility is the name of the game, many are now allowing their employees to work from home, at least part time. “Contrary to popular opinion, high tech companies aren’t rapidly adapting the hybrid model like we’d expect. This is true especially for large high tech companies, who are afraid to lose their creative spark when transitioning to the work from home model. They’re afraid that employees who don’t meet face to face will find it difficult to continue their creative momentum, develop ventures, or innovative thinking. Some large companies went too far, and even considered requiring employees to return to the office five days a week, but many realize that flexibility is crucial in order to continue to attract and preserve existing talent,” said Inbal Namir, who serves as Senior Manager at Deloitte Israel.
However, there are still some software companies who don’t believe in working from home, and require employees to arrive at the office every day. Connecteam is one of the aforementioned companies. It develops a platform for interorganizational applications to help companies manage employees and operations. Connecteam helps companies whose employees do not have a work email or computer, allowing them to set up an interorganizational application for managing communication and employee operations, fully digitizing all procedures. It therefore seems surprising that Connecteam requires employees to show up to the office every day. Calcalist spoke with Connecteam, in an attempt to understand this conundrum.
During a time when many companies who can work remotely are embracing the hybrid model, why are you requiring employees work five days a week from the office?
“Connecteam’s status has changed: in less than a year we’ve gone from 25 employees to over 100. There are tons of new people, and they need training, and to become acquainted and meet their colleagues. Training isn’t only in the professional aspect, it also helps the employee find their place within the company, form friendships, and get to know people personally. The experience of working in an office is especially important in regard to those relationships,” Yuval Magid, COO of Connecteam told Calcalist. “It’s much easier for those new employees to be near more experienced ones, both socially and professionally.”
Your product is an interorganizational platform that supports remote work, so why did your company choose to insist employees work in an office? How do you explain that contradiction?
“During the pandemic, we were forced to work remotely and our platform helped us successfully make that transition. However, there are many aspects that on a personal level cannot be replaced. Even with Zoom and Connecteam’s app, there isn’t any replacement for human connection. There’s a difference between a more mature, larger, and relatively stable company than a younger company like ours that is in a very aggressive growth stage. Last month, we hired new people, who comprise about 15% of our company’s workforce. That’s dramatically different compared to a company like Microsoft that adds three new people to a 100-person department. Our dynamics are completely different. It isn’t impossible to manage employees remotely, it’s just better to do so in-person. It’s far more beneficial to be around others, and get to know them in real life.”
So, do companies who work remotely lose out? Today, many candidates ask about the possibility of incorporating a hybrid work model. What do you tell them?
“That’s a question that comes up often. We tell them that we value the connection among a team, and that’s our corporate culture. We don’t require employees work from the office every day, but there are still things that are difficult to build remotely. We are looking for people like us who are excited to work in a team and build something big together, and that’s why we believe that physically being in an office every day has far greater significance in that aspect.”
Cycode, which employs 40 people, also prefers the five-days-a-week model. “We’re a growing startup, and one of the most important things to us is to move forward and run fast. When people at the company work together in an office, they get to know each other better, are more cohesive and it’s easier to solve problems,” Maya Aharoni, Head of HR at Cycode said.
“Our employees want to come to work, because they really enjoy working with everyone at the office. There’s also some sort of separation between work and personal life. When you work from home, sometimes it’s hard to make that separation. You could find yourself working during abnormal hours, while in place of or in the middle of personal things. Making that separation could also affect you positively. Interpersonal relationships help both work and productivity. It’s very difficult to work in a team and have collective thinking while working remotely. You don’t have that same experience of brainstorming ideas together,” she says.
But hybrid work allows you to work from the office or at home, while practicing teamwork. So why is working from the office better?
“That’s how we gain interpersonal relationships. Working together for five days a week and not just two or three really makes all the difference. We enjoy that togetherness for five days a week unlike hybrid models where it’s only part-time. It’s crucial for me to note that we don’t ‘forbid’ working from home; it’s just not the default choice here. In terms of challenges working in an office, employees stay focused when they’re here, but sometimes some just need their quiet and prefer to work from home.”
At Sidelines, a startup that provides data and statistics to sports enthusiasts and gamblers in the U.S, its 40 employees arrive at the office every day, despite the price the company pays as a result when recruiting.
“Some candidates tell us that they aren’t interested in working for a company like ours, and prefer a hybrid model.” Or Lifshitz, co-founder and CEO of Sidelines told Calcalist. “But some candidates prefer the company and creative and social-family atmosphere that the office work model produces. We are clear with candidates from the initial interview over the phone, and realize that those who prefer the office model are probably the right fit for our company. Some prefer to work from home, and that’s their right, and sometimes we lose candidates. We realized that, but feel that the social and creative benefits of working at the office are more important to us.”
Working from the office during a time when many embrace hybrid models, explained Lifshitz, is better for smaller, younger companies. “Our work environment allows better collaboration between departments. Better ideas and discourse are cultivated due to the in-office aspect, and that is what makes us unique as a startup - that we’re small and feel like a family. We brainstorm many of our ideas together in this joint work environment.”