A trio of current events have created a “perfect storm” that has pushed the issue of Working from Home (WFH) to the top of the estate agency hiring agenda. The situation is now so critical that employers not prioritising the issue will fail to secure or retain the very best candidates.
Firstly, as the Office of National Statistics confirmed last week, job vacancies have risen to record levels. This means that candidates are being particularly picky about which roles they go for, and employers are having to compete with each other to offer the most attractive working conditions.
Secondly, the cost of living crisis – with inflation soaring to a 40-year high and real income now falling – means that employees are looking at every possible way to save money. So, they are likely to prioritise anything that helps them cut costs, including the price of the daily commute.
Finally, one of the legacies of the coronavirus pandemic is that WFH is both possible and effective, with many candidates now seeing it as part of the normal order of things – in other words, not just as a perk, but as a right.”
However, the issue is complicated, and is in danger of creating a ‘two tier’ workforce, divided between those who work from home and those who don’t.
There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach here. The wish to work from home is not evenly spread throughout the workforce. New employees, graduates, anyone undergoing training is likely to value the social interaction of the office and will seize the opportunity to be part of a team, rather than enduring the dispiriting isolation of solo-working from a back bedroom.
There’s also a division between those roles which can feasibly be carried out from a home environment, and those which can’t. In estate agency, managers and negotiators in sales and lettings departments are more likely to be needed at the office, apart from the times when they’re out and about on viewings and valuations.
But for those in support roles, perhaps in property management, renewals, tenancy progression or administration, such as office co-ordinators, there is clearly much more scope to work from home.
However, such differences might not lead to an easy fit for the roles on offer and could prove disruptive and difficult to manage. For example, if two days working from home are allowed each week, only some of the people will be able to get their first choice of doing so on a Monday and Friday. How will those days be allocated?
Similarly, should working from home be specifically mentioned in contracts, or considered as an occasional extra? If it’s down to the line-manager to decide, there’s a danger that a sense of unfairness will start to build. So, managers will need to be well-versed in discrimination law, with every decision they make open to rigorous analysis.
Those wishing to work from home will also need to take into account that employers may want to match their pay to their home location, which may well be cheaper.
Flexibility is key if firms want to hold onto good staff. Working from home is a massive magnet at the moment and employees will simply leave if they no longer think they are getting the best deal.
Before the pandemic, we would never have considered the prospect of any of our staff working from home. But now our office manager lives and works three counties away, and it works brilliantly.
Within estate agency, the coronavirus pandemic merely sped up what was probably going to happen anyway. WFH is already part of the working landscape, so there’s no point anybody trying to fight it, hoping it will quietly go away. Personally, we are convinced it’s set to remain, in some form or other, permanently. Which is why it’s currently such a key issue in estate agency recruitment and employers ignore it at their peril.