After getting a taste for working from home during lockdowns over the past three years, many Kiwis aren’t ready to give it up.

The pandemic forced more than 40 per cent of New Zealanders to work from home, according to Stats NZ.

And more than 61 per cent said they found working from home a positive or very positive experience, according to an ASB Bank/NZIER survey.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly 90 per cent want to continue to work from home at least part of the time, according to a University of Otago study released in May.

Yet, there is sometimes conflict between what many employees want and what their employers do.

Nearly 90 per cent want to continue to work from home at least part of the time, according to a University of Otago study released in May

Should employers let staff work from home?

Studies suggest it may be worth considering keeping remote working as an option for staff.

But many are yet to be convinced, with Microsoft's annual study found one in three New Zealand employers want employees back in the office fulltime next year.

Employers who may be reluctant for their staff to work from home, even a few days a week, may find themselves on the ropes.

Nearly 50 per cent of those employees who have been working from home say they will quit if they are pushed to return to the office full time, according to Employment Hero’s “Remote Working Report”.

The report also noted that more than 80% would consider a position that allows them to stay at home.  This means it could be a good incentive for businesses struggling to attract staff in this tough job market.

The resistance some business owners have isn’t always clear. Multiple studies, even pre-pandemic, show working from home can increase productivity.

Certainly, some workers believe it’s a good idea, citing a better work/life balance, avoiding long commutes, and the flexibility of their personal work style.

With New Zealand now enduring the cost-of-living crisis, nearly 60% workers are choosing to work from home to save money (the ELMO Q3 Employee Sentiment Index). Of those, 44% choose to work from home to save on transport costs, while 24% said it's because they spend more money on food when they work in the office. 

What can businesses do about the work-from-home conflict?

For a start, simply ask what your employees want and try to be flexible. Instead, think about what will encourage them to come back to the workplace for at least some of the week?

Some ideas to bring staff back into the office based on ELMO’s index include:

  • Wellness initiatives: the index shows that 25 per cent of those working from home said they would return for wellness initiatives and 24 per cent would do the same for career development sessions. 
  • Improved technology: The same report found 28% would work from the office if they received a subsidy or if their office setup had better technology than at home. 
  • Free breakfast or catered lunch– that’s what it would take for more than 30%, according to the index.

But the key is for the business is being flexible to cater for the new norm.

Why hybrid businesses might be the answer

Hybrid businesses may be a happy half-way point. In a typical hybrid workplace, employees have the choice of working in a central office, working from home, or splitting their time between the two.

Over half of New Zealand workers believe that their company will be successfully adopting a hybrid workplace over the next year, according to content platform Templafy. The benefits may include improved culture, engaged employees, better retention rates, to name a few.

It may be worthwhile for even small businesses to change their model to a hybrid one and give their employees the chance to choose what works for them.

Working from home is here to stay and managers will have to adapt their skills to better supervise in this new working world.

Employers may also look to providing employees with extra training, career development, and social inclusion strategies to ensure they are able to work in different work environments in the future. To learn more about the potential benefits, check out our hybrid business blog on Well Covered.

However, an important issue to be aware of is mental health of employees. This could be a concern in the new world of working from home. Initiatives like mental health days and mental health resources, and frank conversations about workplace burnout and mindfulness will become vital.

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