Has 9 to 5 Office Culture been Consigned to History?

Published 16/11/2020 - 7 min Read

By Charlotte Moffatt

Primary Research Lead, Insight & Talent Analytics

Quick Summary An insight into how remote working has impacted businesses and business leaders would like to remain in place going forward.

7 min Read

🎶 Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living 🎶

An 80s anthem that speaks to all office workers. An already ageing sentiment that now feels like it’s from a different age entirely. We are at a pivotal point; if we will ever go back to the 9-5 office culture or if we are entering a world of true agile working.

I work in Armstrong Craven’s Insight & Talent Analytics team, gathering primary insight. This requires daily conversations with key talent and business leaders around the world. Since March, everyone I have spoken with, regardless of sector, level of seniority and geography has talked about how remote working has impacted them and what they would like to remain in place going forward. In response, businesses are considering a number of key questions:

  • Should we be going back to a traditional office culture?
  • How can I hold onto my talent whilst remote working?
  • What can I do to better the position of my company?

How companies have handled the Pandemic

The majority of employers have asked everyone who can work from home to do so. The infrastructure for remote teams has meant investment in technology for home offices and training. The most highly-rated companies have monitored employees' feelings, showing empathy and keeping them informed.
“I feel lucky to work here as the company has been very supportive to everyone and has gone above and beyond to ensure everyone feels safe, and those furloughed have been really looked after. From what I have heard from friends, not all companies have been this good.” 

Customer Experience Manager, Manufacturing, UK

Very few businesses are advising their staff to return to the office. But inside those businesses that are, sentiment towards their employers is negative: 

“It shows that [the company] is not progressive and does not care about its employees’ convenience or wellbeing”. 

CRM Manager, Retail, UK

What People Want Going Forward

Over 80% of people I have spoken with would like a mix of office and remote working in the future. For those that previously did not like working from home, there has been a definite shift in belief as people can now see the benefits, however, most people also want time in the office. Respondents have acknowledged the pros and cons of both, which is why a blend of the two is preferred:

The matrix shows that factors like distraction & interruption occur in both environments. From household chores to interruptions from colleagues, they simply take on different forms. When it comes to productivity and a remote work environment, the sentiment varies between roles, for example, software developers feel more productive, whereas respondents in client-facing sales roles find it challenging to sell and effectively ‘read a room’ virtually.

It’s clear that there’s no one size fits all with remote working. Personality, family commitments and job roles have an impact on employee engagement. Employers shouldn’t be forcing their staff to choose one over the other. If the last 6 months has taught us anything, it’s that flexibility is key.

Long-term effects

The pressure is mounting as Twitter announced their 'work from home forever' policy. But it's important to know that it isn't only tech companies taking this stance.

I recently spoke with a HR manager for a defence company that is working to allow a permanent work from home solution. They are making the change because “if we don’t adapt, we won’t recruit”. This is definitely reflective of talent preferences.

“I’ll be unlikely work for a company in the future that doesn’t offer remote working”.

Data Scientist, Utilities, UK

Another industry perceived as slow adopters is the financial services sector. I have heard of at least two companies that insist they will return to 100% office working post-pandemic. In response, some of their employees are already starting to consider opportunities elsewhere.

The impact of flexible working on salaries

Pre-pandemic, working from home was often seen as a perk, whereas now it is an expectation. 
If people only need to go into the office one or two days a week, then it opens up the geographical area for a job search.

I spoke to a software engineer in Leeds, UK who is already seeing a shift. “if someone in Leeds is looking for a new role, why would they take something local, if they can earn more money in London? At 2 hours by train, it is almost commutable, and for one day a week, people would make the sacrifice”. 

Others have noted this trend, identifying rising salaries in the North of England. But in major hubs like London & New York, we could start to see lower salaries. Especially if there is no need to pay as higher travel or living expenses further away from the city centre.

Yet, there will always be roles that need to be office-based or require specialist equipment. Businesses need to retain a positive workplace culture and be mindful of a discord between office and remote workers. Will office workers want extra pay to cover travel costs, especially if home workers are able to claim utility costs? 

Business Travel 

The daily commute is not the only travel that has decreased. Employees are reporting that all business trips and face-to-face client meetings have ceased.

Many salespeople I have spoken with actually miss travelling and selling in person. Selling virtually has its own set of challenges, but they are finding they can fit more meetings in a day and be more efficient online.

We know that travel is unlikely to go back to the levels it once was, but certain sectors may need to, and it will possibly “creep back up”. 

A product owner in market risk said that her organisation is already planning for when business travel restarts. Pre-COVID they were travelling internationally from their UK base. Now, they are training local representatives to visit clients and she will dial-in. This will reduce travel and upskill local talent to increase their client-facing and pitching skills. Also, meetings can be more sensitive to local language and culture. 

Another factor relating to business travel is of course the clients’ locations. In the US, a business development director working in financial intelligence and analytics said that he expects his travel to decrease, largely because some of his clients are closing their offices.

Office hours

Rather than working a solid 8 hours, working days have become more agile and fluid.

Employers are trusting their team members and finding they are as productive at home. For many employees, this is the first time in their careers they have managed their own working hours. Often logging in earlier or working later to suit their needs, achieving a better work-life balance.

People working in global roles can split their days to cover different time zones, or simply work the hours that they feel most productive. In France, a sales professional in health & beauty loves this flexibility. He feels that his work is now more task-focused, rather than needing to be at a desk for a set timeframe each day.

With more people working from home, people are questioning the necessity of an office. Evidence suggests that most people want to work in an office part-time. This could give companies the chance to ‘downsize’, save on rent and introduce a rota.

Corporate Culture vs The Human Element

Throughout my career, I have come across businesses with unusual policies in the hiring process. The first was not hiring men with beards. I have also heard of a candidate being asked to consider cutting his ponytail before a final interview. I myself was gently admonished by a former manager for wearing a short-sleeved shirt to a client meeting in Canary Wharf. Now, this seems almost ridiculous.

In the past 8 months I have had meetings with clients wearing hoodies, met a Chief Medical Officer’s dog on a Teams call and had my client’s 3-year old son interrupt a meeting because it was his bed time. 

Lockdown has removed the “corporate barrier”. People are seeing humans rather than suits, united by common challenges and concerns. For leaders it has been an opportunity to show empathy and connect with teams on a deeper level. It is difficult to imagine going back to the corporate company culture we had before.

What can companies do to best position themselves to adapt to and thrive during these changes?

Companies need to understand what their employees want. Conduct an internal survey on peoples’ preferences with regards to remote/flexible working. Take the time to listen to your employees and spot any concerns early on. This could also help you plan for smaller/alternative office space.

If you are open to remote working, make this clear on your job adverts. By offering remote working, you instantly expand your talent pool to include those you previously never had access to.  

Invest in training. Remote onboarding, management skills and training skills are vital for your leadership teams. Additionally, salespeople may need training on how to effectively pitch, sell and “read a room” virtually. 

Out of all the people I have spoken to, very few people are reluctant to change roles due to the pandemic. People are still looking and are open to approaches, even during these uncertain times. It’s more important than ever that your talent feels valued if you want to retain them.

As we have recently seen with the US elections, online data and research can only tell so much of a story. In order to truly understand the motivations and expectations of a talent pool, it is important to speak with them. It is this primary research, overlayed with our data analytics that provides such a powerful combination to help businesses make better-informed decisions.

At Armstrong Craven, we’ve been working closely with businesses across the world to help them adapt. From finding leaders who excel at transforming companies to new ways of working to identifying where exciting talent can be recruited to work remotely, our talent intelligence services are built around your needs, speak to one of our experts today to find out how we can help. 

Access the Armstrong Craven Review Vol. 9

The Review is read by over 10,000 HR and Talent Acquisition leaders globally and highlights key trends in HR and Talent Acquisition. Volume 9 of the Armstrong Craven Review examines how global events have caused businesses to rethink leadership and talent strategy. The review analyses how organisations must face tensions for successful talent planning. We ask what’s next for EVP? Before exploring the impact of menopause on female leadership and discovering how to succeed in confronting imposter syndrome.

Get In Touch

Get In Touch

Please leave your details below and one of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.