When Offices Reopen, Everything Will Be Different
In the middle of a Microsoft Team meeting, the company CEO left his home office to refresh his coffee and when he came back, his head of marketing said he didn’t realize it was casual Friday already.
The CEO smiled into his camera and said, “Yeah do you like my new plaid pajamas? The kids were tired of seeing me in my other bottoms, so I thought I’d have change of pace today.”
Except perhaps for what people wear, the workplace – at home or in the office – will never be the same.
After 4-5 months of lockdown senior management at a number of firms such as Twitter, Salesforce, The New York Times and many others told their teams that for most employees, coming into the office was going to be optional through the end of the year and probably into the future.
The unplanned social experiment worked and worked well with many employers saying the benefits outweighed the drawbacks.
The shift for many organizations has been to focus on workforce productivity and safety rather than office space.
For tech organizations, having the staff stay away from the office and work from home was relatively easy.
We say relatively because it did require that managers/supervisors to realign their thinking of managing by seeing people at their desks to knowing they had hired the right professionals. Professionals who really didn’t have to be supervised but would focus on meeting objectives and deadlines.
The pandemic has been a shake-up of management practices and thinking.
By sheer coincidence, Japanese firms had already developed detailed plans and conducted tests to have staff members work from home. This was based to a large extent on a British firm’s experience during the London Olympics when 80 percent of companies carried out telecommuting and working from home.
Originally tested for the Tokyo Olympics (which have been rescheduled for next summer) to ease the overcrowded public transportation network and to withstand cyberattacks, Japanese businesses were prepared for the shift to remote work.
For most of the Japanese office workers, the mandatory shift to work from home was reportedly almost flawless.
The threat of spreading a deadly virus through community transmission transformed businesses around the globe overnight as many of us found it to be not just a convenience but suddenly a necessity.
Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman noted that 90 percent of the firm’s 60,000 employees have been working remotely and he said the “experiment” was so successful that he felt moving forward, his organization will work with less formal office space, saving millions while maintaining/enhancing organizational productivity.
However, constant remote work isn’t popular with Gorman, other CEOs, managers or workers.
A Global Workplace Analytics survey noted that the best solution was for workers to split the week between home and office.
The shared, occasional office approach has been implemented for a long time by industry research/consulting firms like IDC, Gartner, PwC and Deloitte.
IDC and Gartner both have offices around the globe and analysts who travel frequently between their home office, regional offices and headquarters.
PwC and Deloitte have regional offices that have visiting work areas set aside for consultants who may be working with clients for a few days, weeks or months before returning to their home base.
Taking advantage of the sudden work-from-home shift, Global Workplace Analytics research found:
- 88 percent of the office workers were working from home during the pandemic.
- 68 percent felt they were successful working from home.
- 72 percent said that they had the resources they needed (tools, skills, resources) to be successful at home.
- Managers and employees universally said remote management/collaboration skills and tools needed to be enhanced.
To better understand the pandemic impact on businesses, we connected with a long-time friend, Crawford Del Prete, President of IDC.
IDC not only operates smoothly in the office and remote environments but is also working with clients to bring people back to the office when the time is right. Again, when the time is right, it will help management and employees return to the new normal. More details at – https://tinyurl.com/y59fhnzp.
“There are two parts to the issue, that we’re addressing,” Del Prete noted.
“The first area of concern was managing the crisis,” said Del Prete. “We had to make certain team members had the tools they needed to be productive working from home. This was not just a “nice to have” issue, but a stark reality. In our case, we were very fortunate we had IT people that equipped our team with the hardware and software tools needed to be productive working from home. From a productivity standpoint, we never missed a beat.
“The second issue to be addressed was to prepare the offices, policies and procedures for people to feel confident when they return to the office,” he continued. “People need to feel safe, and they need to be safe. This is our #1 priority. Interestingly, this is not just about being safe in the office, it’s about being safe on mass transit coming from and going to the office.
Del Prete added, “While work from home eliminated the wasted hours commuting, we also found that the lockdown meant more meetings, longer work hours and remote everything.”
Based on their executives’ own experiences as well as feedback from people who are going through or went through the lockdown work at home scenario, many pro-active employers are subsidizing employees home offices.
This includes setting up an actual office space instead of the dining room or kitchen table for work. It includes adequate lighting, electrical and network connectivity–including comprehensive network security safeguards.
To optimize employee productivity, many organizations are setting up robust remote access capabilities that enable the home worker to access his/her more powerful office workstation as well as key systems and tools on the company’s network. With today’s remote desktop connection systems, people can securely access files and applications to carry out their work from their remote location.
Things, stuff changed, and it will never be the same.
Global Workplace Analytics estimates 30 percent of the workforce will work from home at least 2-3 times a week.
IDC’s Del Prete said that collaboration software and tools have seen not only a boost in demand, but an acceleration of innovation.
“We’re seeing the collaboration industry move ahead 2 years in just 4 months in terms of innovation” he emphasized.
Technology has become an even more important tool for remote workers.
Video conferencing and chat applications such as Zoom, Slac, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets and others have enabled employees to stay connected and collaborate without having to be in the same building on the same floor or in the same meeting room.
It’s no longer just a nice-to-have tool on your computer, it’s a must-have package people need to know how to use efficiently and effectively.
When we suddenly found ourselves stuck at home with the same immovable business deadlines, many of us had to learn how to use new apps while dealing with a workday full of video meetings, digital chats and after-hour correspondence.
Adapting to new workflows, new apps/tools was no longer just fun and interesting, it was vital to ensure you didn’t let your boss, team members or customers down.
Adobe products and the growing list of work-from-home providers that have cropped up enable us to share and work with projects and presentations online and in real time.
Collaborative tools like these have also made executives realize they don’t have to outbid the guy across the street or across town for talent. Instead, they can hire the best talent for the job, regardless of where in the country or on the globe they are located.
The organization gets the talent it needs at a lower cost and with minimal interruption of their productivity.
The individual doesn’t have to weigh how the pros/cons of a job change will impact the family’s lifestyle and quality of life as well as their career progress and job/company satisfaction.
The “ideal person” for the job doesn’t automatically take themself out of contention because they want it all — a better work-life balance, happy family and the need to uproot the family to New York City, Silicon Valley, Austin or any large, clogged street/road location.
Suddenly, people are understanding they really can have it all – personal/family life, a stimulating/rewarding job, and collaboration with a talented/committed team – get more details at https://tinyurl.com/yyt8esww.
“We’ve found that when supported by a culture focused on teamwork and common respect, collaborative applications and tools is good for everyone in the organization,” Del Prete observed. “Teams can collaborate more meaningfully and minimize the time and finance expense associated with new product development.
“But there can be downsides,” he added. “This is the easy part; when we are all out of the office, on video. I worry about the time when some are back in the office, and many are not. This is the time when we will need to be extra sensitive to the needs of the remote worker in terms of meeting etiquette – as we will have many more of them.
“Fatigue is also a huge issue” he continued. “This is tiring work. In many cases, people are juggling the job of care giver, educator, chef, and full-time employee. I’ve spent a lot of time reminding employees to step away from the keyboard.”
Privacy and security concerns need to be a constant priority with so many that are working out of the office. The threat landscape has increased dramatically. The idea of a “fence” around your campus has been shattered.
The concern most often voiced during the mandatory lockdown was there was the sudden old school management fear of loss of control, including the leaking of sensitive information as well as that gnawing feeling that people are goofing off with their newfound freedom.
Regular team and management video meetings and a more disciplined approach to summarizing projects/activities, issues and milestones will usually make these issues/fears disappear for everyone involved.
It requires a constant flow of information by everyone.
Eventually, many of people who have adjusted and worked through the working-from-home routine will return to a new/different office and office routine.
And if you think adjusting to working from home required adjusting and getting used to it, you haven’t seen nothing yet!
During your absence, responsible organizations carried out new social distancing layouts for desks and office furniture.
Companies have been and will continue to comply with new public health guidelines:
- Employee screening
- Social distancing
- Environmental monitoring
- Personal contact-tracing/tracking
- Lockers for personal belongings
- Replacement of employee amenities such as coffee bar, cafeteria, pick-and-go snacks with pre-ordered, delivered coffee, pastry, box lunches, etc.
Working from home required people to make a lot of adjustments and returning to the office will require even more.
Some folks may not want to give up the 2-3 hours of productivity time they discovered by not commuting. Many will find the tele/video conference schedules were more productive and less disruptive than the “wander by” meetings/discussions.
Most researchers, analysts and business consultants agree that one of the good things that came out of the pandemic was that companies and industries made a dramatic shift from the good old 9-5, monitoring/supervising business practice.
Instead, progressive/successful organizations will hire better/smarter, establish clear guidelines/goals with team members and provide the productivity tools and support the new enterprise to move forward as a team rather than a chain of command/responsibility.
Del Prete noted that people will work where it is best for them.
“I’m proud of our team,” he stated. “We sent everyone home on a few days notice and increased productivity. It may not be true for every industry, but for information workers, it can be done”.
Working as a cohesive team with clear guidelines and goals, organizations and teams will get through this and will ultimately agree with Burt in Back to Perfection when he said, “And that’s why we’re at the top of the food chain!”
For an expanded discussion check the IBM Center for the Business of Government column which also appears here.
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Andy Marken – firstname.lastname@example.org – is an author of more than 600 articles on management, marketing, communications and industry trends in media & entertainment, as well as consumer electronics, software and applications. An internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise in storage, storage management and film/video production fields; he has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.