There are real risks inherent with the leading return-to-work hybrid system.
CEOs are wrestling with what to do about bringing back people to the office. The prevailing corporate consensus is consolidating around a flexible hybrid system, which has been championed by Google CEO Sundar Pichai. This entails offering employees an option or a combination of remote and in-office work.
There are other alternatives being offered too. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of both Twitter and Square, informed his employees that they may work remotely “forever.” Spotify, the fast-growing audio streaming and media services provider, previously told its employees, “Spotify is proud to introduce Work From Anywhere, a new way of collaborating that allows Spotifiers to work from wherever they do their best thinking and creating.”
The CEOs of Netflix, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan have all indicated that they want their employees to return to their respective offices as soon as practicable in a safe manner. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Netflix cofounder and co-CEO Reed Hastings said about remote work, “No, I don’t see any positives.” Hastings added, “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative,” when asked about the benefits of working from home.
David Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, unequivocally stated that he wants his people back at the office. Solomon, referring to the prevailing sentiment of working remotely, said, “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.”
Working and collaborating together builds a camaraderie and esprit de corps. Traders, bankers, brokers, compliance, human resources and other personnel share key information, engage in daily discussions and feed off one another. Young employees need mentors, guidance and direction. The synergy, according to Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan, is diminished when its people are disconnected from one another. Leading by example, Dimon and other senior-level executives have already returned to the office over the summer.
To gauge the thoughts of workers, Citrix Systems, a multinational company whose products are used by over 400,000 clients worldwide and 98% of the Fortune 500 companies, conducted a survey of 7,250 employees in 12 countries and assess how their attitudes and expectations on work have changed since the crisis began. When asked how they would prefer to work post-pandemic, the highlights are as follows:
There are real risks inherent with the leading return-to-work hybrid system. Companies will have to ensure that their employees don’t take advantage of the system by collectively deciding to work remotely on Mondays and Fridays, to the disadvantage of other co-workers. It can become a logistical nightmare for managers to have impromptu meetings, as everyone is operating on a different schedule and in varied time zones. A supervisor needs to keep in mind who is working where and when they are available.
Those who work exclusively at the office may form strong bonds and the people at home may start to feel excluded. During the pandemic, it seemed that people put in longer hours compared to pre-Covid-19 times. Resentment may build as each group feels they are working harder than the other. Bosses could grow frustrated that they can’t quickly have a physical face-to-face conversation on the spur of the moment.
Being out of sight and out of mind could adversely impact a remote employee’s long-term career growth. Questions will arise over whether remote workers receive the same level of training, attention, mentorship and guidance compared to the folks in the office. If the manager is in the headquarters, it’s possible that they’ll favor the people who are always there, as they form strong bonds. Onboarding, training and integrating newly hired staff could be cumbersome.
Companies may financially benefit by jettisoning costly real estate, as more people work remotely. The savings, however, may be offset by the need to reconfigure office space to accommodate social distancing and installing health-safety measures.
With a remote staff, companies can now recruit candidates from all around the country. They could find the best and least expensive applicants in lower-cost cities. This could put downward pressure on both the in-office and at-home workers who reside in expensive cities, such as New York and San Francisco, who are paid more than their peers residing in Wyoming or the Dakotas.
The Wall Street Journal surveyed a number of CEOs who offered their views on how the reopening of the economy and returning to work will play out.
Here are their responses:
“I certainly imagine everyone back in [the office]. I do think from a cultural point of view—apprenticeship, the sense of belonging—you are better together.”
“I don’t have a hotline to the governor of California. If I did, I’d be calling him and saying, open the damn state up. A lot of people, while we like being at home initially, we are all social creatures, and sitting at home forever does not sound like an attractive prospect.”
“We think that the way of working is going to be hybrid. People will work from the office, will work from home. Over time, office printing will regain momentum and will grow again, but it will be always lower than what we were expecting it to be before the pandemic because again, people will not be spending so much time in the office. At the same time when we look at the Home business and pages printed at home, we think that there will be more than we were expecting before the pandemic and one effect will compensate [for] the other.”
“I’m a long-term believer in New York, but it’s going to be a difficult period over the next year or two. We’ve been back since September, and let me tell you, it’s great to be back, and we’re so much more productive in the office than we were over the summer and last spring on Zoom. And I think a lot of people when they get back will realize that big productivity pickup versus maybe the short-term benefit of not having to commute.”
“We think that it’s really the beginning of the recovery. I can’t really speak to the pace, but certainly, the news out of Texas and some other states yesterday was good in the sense that being able to move more restaurants into the 75% to 100% capacity. So I actually think things are just going to get better from those numbers.”
“Here in California, we’re encouraged by the positive trends we’re seeing and we’re hopeful they’ll continue to improve and we’ll be able to reopen our parks to guests with limited capacity by late April.”
“A certain amount of people work from home permanently. I think there will be a large portion who permanently work in the office. There will be some hybrids, where you spend two days or two weeks at home and two weeks in the office. It will reduce the need for commercial real estate, but there are huge weaknesses to the Zoom world. I mean most of us learn by an apprenticeship system, by seeing mistakes, going [on] trips, how to handle a client, how do you handle the problem. It’s hard to inculcate culture and character and all those things. It’s very hard to build and develop a deeper relationship on Zoom.”
“Return to work is not return to normal in 2021. I mean, you’re going to the office, you’re still going to be subject to personal protective equipment, to social distancing, to discussions about mandatory vaccination or not, travel restrictions. All of these things will keep the office environment, the good parts of the office environment, still somewhere out of reach for a period of time.”
“Covid-19 was perhaps the worst-possible catalyst, but it forced us to make a transition that was long overdue. We can make work-at-home work for our business and have offered our employees the choice to work from home permanently or return to the office when it is safe.”
“Work will never go back to where we were. I can tell you right now. We will never go back. The reason is that we have found some very good things. Earlier people used to travel at the drop of a hat, but not any more. At some point there will be [office] openings, but we have transitioned so well in most of our offices to work remotely and effectively with the tools that I think, at this point, the sense of urgency is not massively high.”
“There’s still a very good chance that we’ll return to a more normal work, school and life environment by Labor Day. We were a very heavily in-person culture pre-pandemic, and I believe there’s a lot lost when you can’t be together.”
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