It's back to the office for Switzerland
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It's back to the office for Switzerland

As of 26 June, we are now no longer “required” to work from home. Instead, we are just “recommended” to do so.

30 June 2021

Well, we all knew this was coming. Now it’s official.

As of 26 June, we are now no longer “required” to work from home. Instead, we are just “recommended” to do so.

This change in wording is subtle, but the ramifications are huge. For many, returning to the office is not as simple as just catching the train. Times have changed. We’ve spent the last 18 months working from home. Some of us need to significantly restructure our lives to adapt to this new way of working.

Employers, however, would argue that there is no logical reason for not returning. You are not required to wear a mask at work. Receiving a vaccine is also not mandatory – it’s just recommended by the government.

But the real issues for workers are much deeper and more complex than just turning up to the office.

Childcare arrangements may need to be organised. Pet owners – who might not have had pets before the pandemic – will also have to make arrangements. Annual train tickets may also need to be purchased or car spaces rented, near offices.

However, I think the biggest issues will be psychological. Consequently, the “great return” to the office could be more disruptive than the pandemic itself.

Employees won't accept the pre-pandemic status quo

Companies will need to be very careful about how they transition their employees back to office life. What will be at stake is their employer brand, which relates to their overall attractiveness as an employer.

If they are overly restrictive on issues, such as flexible and remote working, they could end up losing valuable employees to their competitors or put off talented candidates from applying for roles.

If they push too fast and too hard, employees could simply quit and move to a competitor that is willing to be more flexible. Likewise, they might find it hard to attract new talent to the business if the opportunity for flexible and remote working is not on offer in the employment package.

So far, the consensus among Swiss companies is to offer workers a hybrid model – one where employees are given the option to work some days at home and some in the office, during the week.

How would a hybrid model work?

Although the concept is easy to understand, making it work is not so simple. Companies will still need to incentivise their employees to visit the office. If they don’t, such an arrangement could prove chaotic. This would be true even with hard rules in place, such as “work from home two days and in the office for three”.

If employees hate coming into the office because they prefer the comfort of working from home, this could affect their morale, productivity and performance.

The office would, therefore, need to be remodelled and restructured. Employees should feel like it is better than working from home when they are in the office. Companies will therefore, need to make their offices as attractive as possible.

Their goal should be to make employees want to go to the office, rather than feel obliged to go. This will mean they will have to invest considerably to improve the offices that they already have. Many new features might suddenly become more common.

For instance, for larger companies these could include new coffee shops, relaxation areas, restaurants, company gyms, and other amenities like dry cleaners or doctors. Obviously, this will depend on the size of the company. But even new multi-tenanted offices could offer similar features and amenities for smaller companies located within that building.

The social aspect is also important. It’s one of the biggest attractions for returning to the office. A redesigned office with better facilities could help encourage more office banter and interaction between employees. It could create a greater sense of comradery and help foster a culture for innovation within a company.

At this point in time, making these types of changes are extremely important, especially in Switzerland.

There continues to be a shortage of talent in Switzerland

This is nothing new. Swiss companies perform well internationally because they are willing to hire the best talent. Subsequently, there has long been a shortage of talent in Switzerland.

This shortage is now set to intensify even more. The country is expected to experience a rapid and strong economic recovery in the latter half of 2021. Therefore, Swiss companies will need to hire even more new talent to take advantage of these favourable business conditions.

Demand will outstrip supply by an even greater degree. We are already seeing this at Badenoch + Clark. Many candidates that we place recently, received multiple offers from great companies. They would be forced to choose.

In most instances, what differentiated one company to another wasn’t the salary on offer. It was, as you guess, the work-life balance they might have. Subsequently, flexible working and nice offices have suddenly become much more important.

It’s not the return to the office that matters. It’s how you return that makes a difference.

Luca Semeraro

Head of Badenoch & Clark
Zurich, Switzerland

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