Working From Home – Who’s Decision Should It Be?

As the pandemic restrictions gradually come to an end companies and employees will start to firm up their office return plans. I think we can all say that ‘hybrid’ working will be a model that remains in place for the future – this means some time in the office and time working from home. Recent research has shown that almost 75% of firms, from tiny companies to massive multinationals (for example HSBC, Google) plan to move to some form of hybrid working.

A fundamental question exists though ‘How much choice should workers have in the matter?’. One of the major banks has had their Chief Executive announce that their people prefer working from home and they are ‘taking the steer’ from them. But is this right and is it sensible?

Of course, it is always good to get agreement from people to a plan, to get them onside and also good to take into account their point of view – in the USA a recent survey of more than 30,000 Americans – completed monthly since May 2020 shows that, post-pandemic, 32% of employees say they never want to return to working in the office. If a survey was completed in the United Kingdom the numbers would be similar.

These are often employees with young kids, who live in the suburbs, for whom the commute is painful when ‘home’ can be rather pleasant. On the other end of the survey however 21% said they never want to spend another day working from home. These are often young single employees or ‘empty nesters’ in city centre apartments.

How Often Do Workers Want to Work From Home? 

Given the broad expanse of views it seems natural to let them choose, doesn’t it? As one Manager said: ‘’I treat my team like adults. They get to decide when and where they work, as long as they get their jobs done.”

But other Managers raised two concerns — concerns, which after reviewing the data has caused us to say that it should not be up to employees to decide which days they work from home. Here are some of our concerns:

  1. How can you manage a hybrid team, where some people are at home and others are at the office? It is so easy for this to develop into an ‘in office group’ and a ‘home out group.’ As an example of what can play out, employees at home can see glances or whispering in the office conference room but can’t tell exactly what is going on. Even when firms try to avoid this by requiring office employees to take video calls from their desks, home employees can and do still feel excluded. They know after the meeting ends the folks in the office may chat in the corridor or go grab a coffee together – something that they cannot do.
  2. The second concern is the risk to diversity. The research we mention showed us that who wants to work from home after the pandemic is not random. The research illustrated that among the graduate group with young children women want to work from home full-time almost 50% more than men.

U.S. Mothers and Fathers Have Different Ideas About Work from Home

This is worrying given the evidence that working from home while your colleagues are in the office can be highly damaging to your career. Further studies have revealed that ‘WFH’ employees had a 50% lower rate of promotion after 21 months compared to their office colleagues. This huge WFH promotion ‘penalty’ occurs because managers have felt that home-based employees in their teams have been passed over in promotions because they are out of touch with the office. Admittedly this particular data was pre pandemic – but who’s to say that this bias will not play through again? If you put all of these things together you can see how allowing employees to choose their WFH schedules could contribute to a diversity crisis. Single young men could all choose to come into the office five days a week and ‘rocket up’ the firm, while employees with young children, particularly women, who choose to WFH for several days each week are held back. This would be both a diversity loss and a legal time bomb for companies.

So, we are advising firms that managers should decide which days their team should WFH. For example, if the manager picks WFH on Wednesday and Friday, everyone would come in on the other days. The only exceptions should be new hires, who should come in for an extra office day each week for their first year in order to bond with other new recruits and for the additional training required to on board them adequately.

Of course, firms that want to efficiently use their office space will need to centrally manage which teams come in on which days. Otherwise, the building will be empty on Monday and Friday — when everyone wants to WFH — and overcrowded mid-week. To encourage coordination, companies should also make sure that teams that need to work together have at least two days of overlap in the office.

The pandemic has started a revolution in how we work, and research shows this can make firms more productive and employees happier. But like all revolutions this is difficult to navigate, and firms need leadership from the top to ensure their work force remains diverse and truly inclusive.

For help in organising your team office and work from home plans post pandemic get in touch with us at, or call on 0116 232 5231


The Tinderbox Team