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Picture: BLOOMBERG
Picture: BLOOMBERG

CEOs hellbent on getting workers back in the office say that being physically together boosts connectivity. Turns out that’s not the case.

Only one in six people feels strongly connected at work, with on-site employees the least connected of all, according to a study Tuesday from consulting firm Accenture. A total of 22% of fully remote workers say they feel “not connected,” while the share for those in the office is nearly double.

The report bucks some of the central logic executives like Citadel’s Ken Griffin cite to encourage their employees to return to the office. While they say that boosts creativity and innovation, commuting is still expensive and can be fraught with challenges, especially for working parents struggling to find reliable and affordable child care.

“One might think a quick fix is simply to bring everyone back to work on-site and human connection will happen,” the report said. “It’s not that simple.”

With the tightest labour market in decades, many people who have successfully worked remotely for more than two years are pushing back against a wholesale return to the office. Workers at companies such as Apple have rebelled, arguing they’re just as productive and much happier at home.

Part of the reason so many workers, especially those who are in the office full-time, are so disconnected is because they feel ignored by senior management, said Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s chief leadership and human resources officer. 

“People want choice,” Shook said. “I really believe that dialing up listening and acting on what you hear can really address that.”

Some employers are rethinking their RTO (return to office) plans altogether after two chaotic years of Covid-19’s twists and turns and a broad reckoning of work culture. Credit Suisse CEO Thomas Gottstein doesn’t think banks will ever return to working full-time from the office, and Airbnb said in April that its employees would be permanently able to work from anywhere.

Feelings of disconnection among employees can hurt productivity and retention and hold real consequences for businesses’ bottom line. The study — which surveyed 1,100 C-level executives and 5,000 workers across skill levels globally in the middle of 2021 — found that companies in which people feel highly connected stand to gain an extra 7.4% in revenue growth each year.

Many executives greatly overestimate how connected their employees feel, Shook said.

“If a business leader thinks this isn’t impacting their organisation, they’re mistaken,” she said.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
Bloomberg


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