“I actually miss going back to the office.” The lament - ironically coming from the scores of employees who once wished they could work from the comfort of their own homes. After a year of work-from-home arrangements arising from the spread of the coronavirus, the world’s attitudes around working from home are finally changing. But while companies are beginning to see the benefits of remote working, employees are yearning for life back in the office. Why is this irony happening? Do people really miss the office?
For decades, the office represented the daily grind. Eight or more hours of hair-tearing work, some pantry chatter, endless meetings and a torrent of email tasks waiting to be completed. The home was naturally a sanctuary of respite from another all-consuming day at the office. When the coronavirus turned our lives upside down, it also tipped the scales on our work and lifestyles. Efforts to work in a home-office with screaming toddlers, a heap of unwashed laundry and household chores turned the office image into a one reminiscent of a quiet library.
Working parents want their children back in schools and childcare facilities. They want to get out of their houses and perhaps have that after-work drink or two and a social life. They want to exit their parents’ homes and regain some ‘out-of-office sanity’. The office suddenly seemed to be the place where one can feel a little more in control.
Even as vaccines roll out and the possibility of office reopenings nears, the average employee will likely experience a ‘workplace culture shock’ back in the office. A return to their work desks will no longer feel the same. With masks and social distancing rules, fragmented teams, hot desking and staggered workdays; the transition back to the office may well be foreign, to say the least.
What can we expect in the 2021 office? For companies eager to reopen offices, here are some trends to watch to help organizations better manage a hybrid workforce that looks set to stay.
The eight-hour, five days a week schedule will slowly depart, while working from home will become a norm. Organizations have now experienced that home-based and remote work can achieve just as much success as work done in the office. Google has further extended its work-from-home arrangements this year, as they test a hypothesis that a flexible work schedule model will bring about greater productivity, collaboration and well-being for employees. Under its pilot plan, employees will be expected to spend at least three ‘collaboration days’ in the office, and the rest of the time working from home. It is imperative for organizations to start thinking about what is expected of employees as they embark on similar flexi-week arrangements. What will you do with those valuable ‘collaboration days’ that employees are present in the office? Which meetings will be essential and how long should they be? Which meetings can be virtual? Which departments or key personnel will need face-to-face meetings to yield productive outcomes?
Ironically, the pandemic has made us crave human interaction - at a time when it is globally discouraged. But what people miss most is people. Even a day a week in the office is vital for team togetherness. People look forward to bumping into each other at the corridor, having water-cooler conversations and idle chit chats that could lead to eureka ideas. The new breed of offices need to reflect that. While we may now shun the open office layout, total isolation pods aren’t solutions either. Employees will be expected to work closely with their teams as they return to the office and office configurations will need to be reshaped into creative, larger discussion zones with dividers for privacy and modular furniture for seating. Expect to see more lockers too as employees will no longer be bound to their assigned cubicles.
While employees crave human interactions back in the office, they are also enjoying the freedom to work remotely on their own terms. Marrying the two will prove a challenging task for most organizations. As employees slowly flock back to the office after a year of remote working, there will be an incremental desire to have a hybrid workweek; dividing time spent between working in the office and at home. Companies should equip their offices to support hybrid working with the right technology; creating safe work zones and adopting new ways of working to maintain productivity, morale and collaboration.
For many working parents with children, most are struggling to fit work into a mad schedule that includes meal preparations, virtual learning for children and school transport arrangements. Parents are increasingly stressed, especially if they are without caregiving help. Companies will need to be prepared to embrace part time arrangements for valued employees as this may just be the retention tool to keep their best hires within the organization.
As Gen Zs enter the workforce, they bring with them a digital fluency as they grew up with technology. Thus, they expect technology at work to be simple and easy but they also want a human-touch work experience. In a research ‘Gen Z’s and The Future Of Work’, it found that 83 percent of Gen Z workers prefer to engage with managers in person, but 82 percent of managers assume their Gen Z employees prefer instant message communication. Another disconnect revealed that 57 percent of Gen Z want to receive feedback several times a week, yet only 50 percent of managers provided frequent feedback. Companies should listen and create a workplace environment that will suit the needs of this new generation, leveraging technology to simplify their work and help managers become active leaders in growing this younger workforce.
2020 was a year of unprecedented change. 2021 may well be a year of collaboration, connection and creativity, all while maintaining good social distancing etiquette.
There’s a better way to grow. And it’s not the traditional way.
It’s about rethinking traditional employment archetypes. Can we progress from an economy built on full time employment habitually enslaved by unemployment fears, to one where individuals have greater autonomy and are self motivated to do work that inspires them? And as a result, benefit the economy as a whole?
You can’t own full time employees. But you can build a winning team with talent management companies. As businesses demand more, external talents are emerging as the sure forer
Google delays return to office to September 2021, eyes 'flexible work week': Report, Channel News Asia (14 Dec 2020)
Ryan Jenkins, How to Improve Communication Between Generations in the Workplace, Entrepreneur Asia Pacific (6 Jul 2020)
Ron Carucci, How to Prepare Yourself for a Return to the Office, Harvard Business Review (6 Jul 2020)
Jena McGregor, Six ways your office will be different in 2021, assuming you ever go back to it, The Washington Post (30 Dec 2020)
Gen Z & The Future Of Work, ServiceNow (2019)