When was the last time we had an opportunity to re-imagine our workplace and how we work?
The Industrial Revolution allowed many from the countryside to move to cities in Europe and the United States. World War II forced many women into the workplace, while the late 40's and the GI Bill allowed millions of veterans to get their education and better-quality jobs. IBM, Apple, Compaq, Acer, and Motorola (remember StarTAC?) drove remote computing and productivity for business executives and "soccer moms," boosting the 'digital age.' And, finally, the Year 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic forced the workforce out of the office to work from home and via zoom and other collaboration tools.
Enter 2021 and beyond! We now have a new chance to create a new, more efficient, and highly optimized workplace model, allowing employers to mitigate uncertainty and risks while allowing employees and fractional specialists be more satisfied with their remote employment.
Yet, one issue remains in the way people see the post-pandemic workplace – a gap between what the employers expect and what employees or freelancers are willing to accept.
More than 80% of C-suite executives recently surveyed by McKinsey communicated that they expect the "typical" employee to be back in the office a minimum of three days per week (see chart). While the C- Suite might think that the 'pandemic experiment' was a success, they also fear it hurt the office environment and disrupted the pre-pandemic workplace's status-quo financial and HR models.
Employers are hungry for the workforce to occupy newly cleaned and disinfected offices. At the same time, full-time and fractional employees realize that 'remote' is a much more flexible and advantageous environment for them and their loved ones.
Nationally, about a third of workers have started to come back to their workplaces, according to data from Kastle (and based on the report from The Wall Street Journal), according to access-card swipes in thousands of buildings.
But in some markets, including the biggest cities in Texas, office occupancy is back to 50%. New York City and San Francisco occupancy rates are still less than 25%.
The remote vs. on-site workplace debate can be an animated one. According to one behavioral scientist, Jon Levy, 'hybrid' is not a recipe for success. Jon writes in The Boston Globe that being absent from the office decreases the chances of a worker being valued or even promoted. He also says the "two-class system," that will inevitably arise from hybrid workplace setups, "has the potential to be corrosive to a sense of trust."
Employers can potentially treat 'remote' employees as 'absent' and eventually force them out of the organization altogether.
So, what could be the most optimal environment? Let's address some of the points made in The Boston Globe article.
The Allen Curve
In communication theory, the Allen curve is a graphical representation that reveals the exponential drop in the frequency of communication between professionals as the distance between them increases. It is not adequately solved in the hybrid workplace model, but if the whole team is distributed, it's less of an issue since everyone can have the same opportunities, and communication options abound. The hybrid workplace model, however, presents a different challenge.
Trust can be reinforced with proper management strategies. For example, one practical idea is to encourage bonding for the right reasons, in line with team values rather than personal popularity, which is often counterproductive to correct business decisions. Trust also needs to be regained between management and employees. As noted in The Wall Street Journal, Netflix Inc. Chairman and co-CEO Reed Hastings has made no secret about wanting to get the streaming giant's 9,000 employees back in the office. "Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative," Mr. Hastings said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last fall.
Working from home can be too convenient
It's indeed convenient, but this is a double-edged argument. On the one hand, who wants to spend a couple of hours of the day commuting? On the other hand, commuting gives us time to process our days, let our minds wander, and explore ideas. Additionally, "office life forces transition and breaks throughout the day," as noted in an article from The Boston Globe.
A sense of "belonging" can be tricky. While you can spend more time with your family and "belong" there, if you can't build personal relationships at work, you might be challenged to belong to the "work team and family." In contrast, as some management members and employees begin commuting back to the office, and you may potentially fall out of favor or acceptance by the team.
As you can see from above, the hybrid workplace will have its challenges and present a few exciting and flexible options for management and employees.