2024: The year of the great return to the office

During 2022 and 2023, many companies – large and small alike – asked their teams to return to the office for at least a few days a week. This trend is likely to accelerate throughout 2024 as more organisations acknowledge the negative impact that fully remote working has on workplace morale and productivity.

Here are five reasons I believe that the work-from-home trend is likely to reverse this year:

1.      Remote work erodes company culture

With a few exceptions, most companies have discovered that fully remote work isn’t good for workplace culture. Many have found that team cohesion and collaboration has deteriorated during the years of working from home. Online standups, WhatsApp and Slack groups, and virtual get-togethers simply don’t promote the same level of bonding among teams as casual interactions. Having lunch in the canteen, stopping by a colleague’s desk with a quick question or chatting in the kitchen while making coffee facilitates sharing of information better than the virtual alternatives.

2.      It’s alienating for new hires

While many enterprises have developed innovative onboarding and training programmes to support remote workers, the reality is that these are a poor substitute for face-to-face contact. The result is that new hires often feel disconnected from their colleagues and the business they have joined. It also generally takes longer to bring people up to speed with company processes, systems, and ways of working online than to meet in the real world.

3.      Load shedding has thrown a spanner in the works

In an unequal country like South Africa, working from home is more challenging for people who don’t live in areas with reliable fibre or have enough space to create a dedicated place to work. Load shedding has compounded this challenge, given that many people simply can’t afford backup power solutions like solar panels and generators. By contrast, most employers have invested in infrastructure to enable people to stay productive throughout power outages.

4.      Productivity can suffer

It’s an unpopular opinion, but productivity has suffered because of remote work where work-from-home wasn’t part of the culture before the pandemic. Most organisations simply haven’t built their processes around remote work; what’s more, employees working remotely often face distractions at home, such as family responsibilities or household chores. It’s also not unusual for employees working from home to struggle with tasks that a colleague would be able to easily help them with if they were in the office.

5.      Employees are also cooling on the idea

Many office-bound employees rejoiced when they thought their days of long commutes, noisy open-plan offices and inflexible working hours were over. But employees are increasingly realising that they are social beings who need time outside their homes and direct interaction with colleagues and mentors. For some, the sense of loneliness and disconnection can even affect their mental health. In addition to craving human contact, they also understand that it’s difficult to be visible in an organisation and advance their careers without face-to-face interaction.

Office presence will be key to the future of work

I’m not advocating that every organisation needs to turn every role into a full-time office job or that is necessary for every person should work onsite eight hours every day. Technologies such as cloud-based post-signature contract management software supports hybrid working models that empower people to be productive wherever they are. That means it’s possible today to offer flexible working models that help employees skip some of those tedious commutes, while also nurturing company culture and creating opportunities for direct, personal interaction. Here’s to getting the balance right.

Norman Kretzmer

Norman Kretzmer

With over 20 years of experience in leading and growing businesses, Norman is the CEO of Contract Understanding, a company that developed a game-changing AI-powered Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution designed to empower organizations to securely, and efficiently, handle contracts once they're signed.

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