Is The Office Open Yet?

Is The Office Open Yet?

I have spent months this summer speculating and debating about what the return to school would look like, and what maybe it could look like? Could we actually emerge from this better?  Could we use what worked and what did not work to create a new normal? Maybe a school environment that included increased instruction, more physical activity, a way to not have kids spending hours doing homework. This was a chance to rethink things. Basically, issues we have been discussing for years, possibly from this pandemic a new way could emerge.  I guess I was naively optimistic.

Will the business industry follow suit and return to brick and mortar much of the same, or will companies use the data that is emerging from this unprecedented event of worker relocation to home and use that data to implement strategies to increase productivity, connectivity, and engagement in the workforce? Should employers implement ideas that have been emerging for some time, even pre pandemic?  This could be a historic scientific opportunity, with a large real-life sample size to study. Can we maintain work life balance but ensure connectivity and productivity? We might like Zooming in our Pajama bottoms, but did we get anything done? Is the choice to go back to 100% in the office again even an option to do safely?

While remote work has been part of many business, traditional management strategies still meet the idea with skepticism. Does productivity, collaboration and therefore innovation suffer?

SHRM reports a study by Mercer of 800 employers and found that productivity remained the same and, in some instances, increased than pre pandemic.

While a global public health crisis does not necessarily evoke positivity, multiple studies do reveal that experience for workers has been overall positive. The elimination of long commutes increased work satisfaction and work/life balance.

The US Census Bureau averages that the employees spend 27 minutes on a one-way commute. That is over 200 hours in transport, and that obviously differs vastly by region. If that time is spent working or even with family, the result is increased satisfaction translates to productivity.

In a survey from Slack the majority of skilled office workers enjoyed working remotely, out of close to 10,000 workers surveyed, in the US, UK, France, Germany Japan and Australia:

  • 12% reported the desire to go back to the office 100%
  • 45% reported greater work satisfaction, and 20% reported a decline
  • Most workers reported preferring a hybrid option. A survey conducted by Gartner reported hybrid as the most popular return to work strategy, with 80% choosing this option post pandemic.

The most common reason executives feel employees need to be in the office is the loss of collaboration between teams. Employers who want to innovate will listen to this data and dig deeper to see how to maintain collaboration and innovation even when employees are remote at least some of the time.

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) surveyed more than 12,000 individuals between May and June of 2020 in the US, Germany and India. This is a fascinating study, linked below.  A large number of those respondents reported that they were able to maintain productivity levels if not increase them.

The study reported that social connectivity had a large impact on productivity when it came to collaborative tasks. In fact, employees who reported “satisfaction with social connectivity with their colleagues are two to three times more likely to have maintained or improved their productivity on collaborative tasks than those who are dissatisfied with their connections.” The report also focused on employees with high mental and physical health as well as access to workplace tools, reported better ability maintain collaboration. These are all key areas employers need to focus their efforts when incomes to their workforce.

Adopting new models will have impact on organizations and thinking through this change with a focus on company’s individual short and long goals will pay off. Hybrid models could have positive impacts on long term real estate costs and access to more talent. It can also have untended consequences if rethinking communication and team norms are not part of the strategy. Examples like remote workers who are not chosen to lead projects due to not adjusting traditional work norms. This could also lead to unintended discrimination.

No one wanted a pandemic to occur to bring about changes in our workforce, but the changes are happening and this time, at least we have the ability to plan a little more about what that will look like.

Stay safe and healthy.

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