Twitter is taking a ‘no pressure’ approach to its staff as the firm considers how best to manage and coordinate a return-to-work strategy amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
As highlighted in a press report (The Guardian, 12 May 2020), the social media giant is planning to allow some staff to work from home for the remainder of their employment at the firm, with a corporate blog post stating: “Twitter was one of the first companies to go to a work-from-home model in the face of Covid-19 – but we don’t anticipate being one of the first to return to offices.” (Twitter, 12 May 2020)
It noted: “We were uniquely positioned to respond quickly and allow folks to work from home given our emphasis on decentralisation and supporting a distributed workforce capable of working from anywhere. The past few months have proven we can make that work. So if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen.
“If not,” the blog added, “our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions, when we feel it’s safe to return.”
Looking ahead at the next few months, the company outlined a three-point plan:
- “Opening offices will be our decision. When, and if, our employees come back, will be theirs.”
- “With very few exceptions, offices won’t open before September. When we do decide to open offices, it also won’t be a snap back to the way it was before. It will be careful, intentional, office by office and gradual.”
- “There will also be no business travel before September, with very few exceptions, and no in-person company events for the rest of 2020. We will assess 2021 events later this year.”
The day after Twitter’s blog emerged, research from UK workplace consultancy ENGAGE – in partnership with YouGov – revealed that more than half of British workers are uncomfortable with returning to work while the virus is still active, with 33% anticipating a decline in their mental health as a result. (ENGAGE/YouGov, 13 May 2020)
ENGAGE CEO Dr Andy Brown said that the findings “clearly show that any physical return to work needs purpose”. He explained: “Covid-19 secure guidelines mean firms may not be able to provide the collaborative, innovative environments that we had before. And we now know that remote working isn’t the barrier to communication or collaboration that we once thought. Organisations will need to align their return strategies with the real benefits they will deliver, rather than just returning to the way things have always been done.”
What does this mean for how employers should handle staff as their return-to-work strategies take shape?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The whole question of when to allow staff to return to work is about far more than putting safety procedures in place, ensuring that social distancing rules are adhered to and regularly disinfecting office equipment. Many employees have begun to question whether they need to be in bricks-and-mortar premises at all. Organisations have begun to question whether they need to spend such vast sums of money on retaining those premises. They are also coming round to the idea that they have probably been doing more business travel in this digitally enabled age than they really needed to.
“So the problem, I think, will be this: deeming the workplace safe to return to will be within the control of management. But what won’t be within their control is workers’ willingness to give up the freedom and autonomy that are part and parcel of working from home. Staff will also be reluctant to surrender the savings accrued – not just in terms of money, but time – by not having to commute. Those areas are going to be much more difficult to manage.”
Cooper notes: “Some staff will have to come into work because of the nature of their jobs. But there will be people in the same organisations who don’t, and could quite readily continue to work from home. There will also be people who could work from home, but choose to come into the office. As leaders, we are well aware of the challenges involved with the perception that we are treating different groups of staff fairly and consistently. As Adams’ Equity Theory tells us, employees at any level are always benchmarking themselves against how other people are rewarded for their specific efforts and contributions.”
She adds: “Just yesterday, I was talking about these very issues in a Zoom meeting with representatives of the civil service in the Cayman Islands, who are currently facing a set of related challenges. My message to them was that there will be resentment as return-to-work strategies take effect. People will feel hard done by – and it’s okay for them to articulate those feelings. It’s also important to have some form of compensation in place, so that people who will no longer be working from home, with all the benefits that entails, will have a quid pro quo to look forward to. You can only reach those points of understanding in cases where there is widespread discussion – and genuine transparency about how those decisions are made.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on developing strategy