Roles that cannot wfh

The company I work for has a mix of roles - admin, sales, finance, warehouse, lab based. 

Our office based staff have the opportunity to wfh when required but of course, our warehouse and lab based staff cannot, as their role requires them to be on site. 

Everyone's contract states 'office based' but since covid, we like many other companies have found that a mix of wfh and office works well for a number of our roles. 

Its not heavily monitored, people just ask Line Managers if its okay in advance and its infrequent but no doubt the warehouse and lab staff do feel a little jealous at times.

No real issues have arisen so far but I'm interested to know how others have handled this type of situation. 

My take on it right now is that there are roles that people are required to be on site for, that is their job and without being on site, they are unable to perform their duties. 

  • If you cannot do your work from home then you can't really work from home can you?
  • Its one of those things that should be output focused. If you focus on output not location or input it becomes clearer. You can't output as many widgets on a production line by working from home. But if say they had to do mandatory training for a day and that could as effectively be done at home then that would work. And whilst some colleagues might feel its unfair they know deep down that it is what it is
  • If a task is done through a screen/device, then it can be done remotely.

    We have to stop thinking about "jobs that cannot WFH" and think instead about "tasks that cannot be done WFH".

    Those tasks could be redesigned to be done via a screen/device and that could then open them up to being done remotely.

    Those tasks could be swapped with other tasks in other jobs so that each job has a minimum proportion of tasks that HAVE to be done onsite, and the rest is down to personal choice.

    This latter approach has worked well in companies I have researched. High-end fashion retailers changing shop worker tasks to allow some remote working. Pizza shops swapping delivery driver tasks and logistics tasks so that some can remote work. Office reception staff using technology to allow some tasks to be done remotely. Loads of similar examples.

    I would challenge your final paragraph. You say roles. I say tasks. Where we have a problem is where a job is comprised entirely of such tasks like the ones you describe.

    What we have there, is a job design issue. And jobs can be redesigned.

    Someone really needs to write a book or two on this ;-)
  • In reply to Gary:

    Gary said:
    We have to stop thinking about "jobs that cannot WFH" and think instead about "tasks that cannot be done WFH".

    Sorry I disagree. Each question is equally as bad as the other. And both assume there is a "better" place to work from. Setting one up over the in this way perpetuates a false distinction.

  • In reply to Keith:

    Somewhat away from the question, but I am a bit concerned about the groupthink that tells me that working from home = good, working from office = bad, and if I feel differently I'm just wrong. I worked the majority of the pandemic from an office, and I know very well that I was fortunate to do so, had I worked at home for the whole time my mental health would not have coped. My point is that different things suit different people, as HR professionals we should champion this, not simply push (aggressively in some cases) the one narrative.
  • In reply to Annabel:

    Just to clarify, I don't see wfh as 'good' and office as 'bad', none of our staff do. I personally enjoy a mix of the two and enjoy seeing my colleagues, I think hybrid is far better for ones mental health. We do not have any one who fully works from home.
    Ultimately though, I am happy that my role allows wfh on the odd occasion when I need to, my warehouse and lab based colleagues do not have that opportunity however, and although as Keith has said 'deep down they know it is what it is', it still will create a little jealously, where human at the end of the day.

    My question was really for those who have this experience in their organisation and just generally what their thoughts on it are, I'm just interested to hear other peoples take and if they have dealt with a colleague who complained about not being able to wfh when others can, how they handled it.

  • In reply to Annabel:

    yes I agree that's the point I was trying to make. Its partly about personal preferences but also about outpurs and where its most efficient to work from. Taking arbitrary decisions that one is better than the other. or one should be the default without taking into account efficiency, outputs and also employee preferences (but not at expense of others) is a mistake. HR can and in places is sleepwalking into a new orthodoxy that one solution is "better"
  • In reply to Keith:

    I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with. It reads like you're agreeing with me. At least, I agree with the point you're making and felt I'd made a similar one.
  • Hi Hannah,

    I had the same issue in my team. When talking to the employees who could work from home and asking the main reasons why they took it up, it was a consistent theme of being home earlier as they were already home when finishing work. This allows them to get a better work-life balance.

    They didn't have to travel in rush hour etc. So I introduced Flexi time, where employees work a full day, but they can vary their working hours. I also introduced a compressed work week occurs when an employee works for longer periods of time per day or shift in exchange for a day off. This gave everyone something to apply for that offered some sort of flexibility, including employees who can't WFH

  • In reply to Chris:

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for your reply, really helpful.
    Totally agree with the balance WFH offers, its one of the main reasons I'm thankful for it, I gain 2 hours every day if I WFH home and that's huge, especially with a young family.
    The flexi time is great but wouldn't work for us as we are already condensed into 4 day working week and there isnt much scope either side of the start/finish hours as it is for people to alter their day. Appreciate the feedback though !
  • An alternative is to consider what forms of flexible working they can have, rather than focus on WFH. For example, I know of one organisation that had a big push on introducing hybrid pre pandemic to reduce their office costs and carbon of people travelling. For people like security guards etc, where, whether you focus on tasks or jobs, they are not going to WFH, they engaged with them to talk about other forms of flex. They settled on a new rota that was consulted and voted on, that people felt was better for their WLB. They also allowed a degree of self-rostering so that staff had control over their shifts, were empowered to swap etc.

    There are other quite neglected forms of flexible working too, like job shares - but also loads organisations can do to facilitate these working well. Why not do a focus group or similar, and engage with the groups on a wider flex initiative?
  • In reply to Gary:

    I agree Gary although redesigning jobs and thinking more creatively about tasks requires work and you'll know from your book research that there are a lot of companies out there across a range and some are better than others at thinking creatively about how to address and balance some of this stuff. They are quite happy to keep things the same rather than progress and think do all these tasks need to be done in one location.
  • In reply to Annabel:

    I agree Annabel. I think it's about a feeling of control too. If my business 'dictates' or 'mandates' it feels very different to people feeling they are able to make a choice or be able to discuss their unique circumstances and needs and say I feel more productive if I ....In reality decisions are rarely binary. There's a place for discussions, considerations, blends and to acknowledge that for some, the office, is a place of safety, distance, productivity and many other things. It's not all one way or the other.