Do you really need your team to be back in the office full time? The picture in this post? That’s me, writing this post.

This past weekend, I was speaking to a friend about all the news surrounding going back to work full time, especially now with the Covid numbers on the rise again. My friend insisted his company wouldn’t be able to grow unless all his employees – everyone – came back to the office. He has issued a mandate that ALL his staff HAD to be IN the office, full time.

I immediately said “Come on. Hybrid work is here to stay, my friend. Adapt or die.” He was shocked. And honestly, I was shocked he was shocked. Let’s look at hybrid work concept and practices and the related opinions. I pointed him towards an article which stated: “According to a survey conducted by LinkedIn, 74% of those surveyed indicated that the time spent at home – either during shut-downs or working remotely – during the pandemic, had caused them to rethink their current work situation.” ^ It’s simple – employees have proven they can work from home, and they want to keep doing it, at least in a hybrid model. The article basically says that if employers don’t allow some sort of hybrid model, employees will leave and find another job that does.

As I looked at this, I believe the issue comes down to different points of view on five topics.

  1. Health. Some companies are mandating a return to work AND mandating vaccines prior to returning. Restaurants in NYC are requiring proof of vaccination prior to entering. If you know me, you know I’m pro science, which also means I’m very much in favor of vaccines. Moreover, I believe companies have the right and responsibility to request proof of vaccination prior to entry. Others vehemently disagree, so I’ll just leave this topic right here for us to discuss another day. 
  2. Togetherness. Some people believe employees in teams cannot work “together” if they’re not together physically. Look, I get it, there’s clearly something to be gained by talking face to face, chatting in the hallway, sitting around the same conference table, sitting near one another and lobbing ideas around. But hello? After nearly two years of Zoom, is there really anyone who hasn’t managed to make remote teamwork effective? Sure, it was rocky at first, but honestly, most of us have it down to a science now. Multiple monitors, speakers, headsets, a variety of online tools, etc. Working remotely is easier now than it was two years ago. Looking at my home office which my wife and I share, I even see some additional items which have come about in the last year and a half. My wife keeps a makeup area set up nearby with some makeup, a mirror with lights, some brushes, etc., in case she has a meeting that requires a different look than her normal (and beautiful) fresh face and hair in a messy bun. Likewise, I’m ready to roll with a business casual shirt that’s kept on a hangar near my desk. No makeup for me. (That one time I tried some of her under-eye concealer doesn’t count.) Truthfully, you’ll very likely catch me in a golf shirt these days. And, if your dog barks or your kids come and ask you a question while we’re zooming, don’t sweat it. This is life now. I’m glad we’re all able to be with our kids and pets. It makes for a nicer day. The point is, we collaborate with people all day long without issue. My wife has staff all over the globe, so she’s on zoom calls at all hours of the day and night. The truth is most teams are comprised of team members in different cities and countries anyway. We’re “together” virtually, and it is just fine. Would I love to see people in person more often? Sure, but it doesn’t need to be five days a week.
  3. Culture. My friend was certain his company culture would suffer. So, I asked him “What specifically will suffer and why?” He was certain his “top down” approach to building his company culture suffers because it is hard to “nurture culture remotely.” He said that his weekly “all-hands zoom calls” — where he and a few key senior people give weekly updates via zoom on what’s going on at the company — weren’t really working. I replied “So, you and your executives take turns talking AT people? Sounds thrilling. Do you honestly believe this was working for you when you all sitting in one room?” What I know that my friend hasn’t yet realized is that culture isn’t talking AT people. Culture “happens” when your employees want to speak with and spend time with one another.

    By the way, a quick plug…. one of my startups, CookingClassLive.com, offers live, online cooking classes for groups of employees. It’s the perfect corporate team building event. Our professional chefs around the country give 60-to-90-minute cooking classes and everyone joins from their own home kitchens and learns to cook a fun meal. Employees love it because we all know how dull virtual cocktails are. See https://www.cookingclasslive.com/team-building-events-cooking-class-live
  4. Productivity. Some managers believe you’re not really “working” unless you’re IN the office. Come on folks. There isn’t a more antiquated viewpoint than this. Let’s look at the reality. If you must stand on top of people to make sure they’re working, you have other issues. You’re likely not a good manager and you certainly haven’t hired the right people. I could even strongly argue people are working MORE hours than before. My NJ to NY commute was, for years, 90 minutes each way, to go about 20 miles. It’s the same in cities across the USA. So, if people can avoid that commute, that’s likely more time they’re working. It may not be the full three hours a day, but I bet it’s close. And think of how much less stress employees are experiencing.
  5. Technology. Technology already existed to make remote work possible, but spurred by a global pandemic, even organizations who hadn’t yet embraced cloud had to quickly pivot and do so. That’s where we saw the mass adoption of video conferencing and collaboration solutions like Zoom, and Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Webex — which are used in business, in the education setting, and for personal connections with family and friends the world over. Banks and financial services organizations serve their customers remotely today, call centers operate (and serve customers) using cloud technology, and retailers embraced technology that facilitated ecommerce. In the business world, customers and employees alike quickly became comfortable doing and collaborating and accomplishing and serving by sitting in front of their desktops or by using their mobile devices and, quite literally, working from anywhere. And what the pandemic has taught us is that it absolutely can be done — for me, I don’t see that there’s really any going back from there.

My friend Shelly Kramer, one of the founding partners of Futurum Research, is a tech analyst and an expert on technology and how technology, (and a global pandemic) are driving the topic of the future of work. I spoke with her on this topic to see what her thoughts were on what the workplace will look like moving forward. She shared that she believes the companies with a mindset like my friend’s — one that requires all employees in the office at all times — will likely find it difficult to compete in what are challenging times in the workplace. Research form the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that when discussing recruiting with HR pros, 48% say their most pressing problem is finding a deep enough pool of talent, so finding skilled workers is clearly a problem. Shelly also shared that we are in the midst of what is being called “The Great Resignation” with employees at all levels leaving the workplace in droves, often due to either not feeling appreciated or their concerns heard by their employers, not feeling like their health and safety is a priority or realizing that there has got to be a better option than sticking it out in a job where they don’t feel valued. Kramer shared that the American retail sector alone has seen more recent resignations than any other industry, with almost 650,000 retail workers quitting in the month of April 2021 alone.

Bottom line, according to Kramer, how companies treat employees as we continue to slog through a pandemic that to date has no end in sight will likely define them, and their brands, for a long time to come. Some employees are perfectly fine returning 100 percent to an in-person office setting, but many employees either prefer a wholly remote environment, or a hybrid work environment. Employers who discount those preferences will likely learn some very valuable lessons along the way at the hands of their employees. Or former employees.

At the end of the day, many people don’t want to be in the office full-time anymore. Who would? With the Covid numbers on the rise, many expect schools will return to remote learning or some sort of hybrid. This will immediately put a strain on employees without childcare options. And as I’ve already mentioned, beyond the logistical issues of taking care of family, I believe most people are working MORE hours now that they’re working from home.

So, where do you stand on the return-to-work topic? Also, if we’re not connected on LinkedIn, let’s fix that right now.

Source ^ (https://apple.news/AjVcQzRGuSSiHdw0mxTH8yg)


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