Returning to the Office – Kicking and Screaming

By , Tuesday, April 11th 2023

Categories: Analyst Blogs

Tags: future of work, WFH, work environment, work from home, workplace,

What about returning to the office for work?  Here is a bit of perspective based upon experiences in meeting with companies over the last eighteen months.  There are several circumstances or categories that I have observed for my meetings:

-My visit was the only time the ‘team’ had gotten together as a group. Note that early after the pandemic had subsided, my visit was the first time that many had gotten together.

-Only certain days of the week was an in-person meeting possible.

-Some companies did not have in-person meetings at all.

-An in-person meeting included a certain number of people present and a number that were by video-conference.

-Rarely was an in-person meeting the same as prior to the pandemic.

The conclusion at this juncture is that there is no general answer regarding employees coming back to work.  Always wanting to understand more, I asked many during conversation times about going back into the office.  Many would not, threatening to leave (quit or retire) if it was required. Asking management about getting employees back into the office got mostly  responses around the value of interaction of the employees.  It was not so much that they were more productive, although that may be the case in a few instances, it was the sharing of ideas, motivation from shared experience and responsibility, and cooperation that were major values missing when employees did not return.  This should not be confused with remote workers where the job is essentially defined in a way for that to happen but for environments where group efforts were normal.

This leads to looking at companies with different approaches.  It certainly is a conundrum about how to motivate employees to return to the office when the company sees it as highly beneficial.  Some of the approaches I have encountered on visits with companies (note that these visits were not for researching this topic, I was engaged with these companies on a professional level):

-There were a few that were told to come back to the office, or it was assumed they were no longer employed. This seemed very harsh.

-Many had arrived at a flexible in-the-office schedule with the majority required to be in the office three days a week.

-Some were ‘entirely virtual’. The company argument was the savings on facilities costs were so significant, it was worth any potential downside. This meant that they understood they would lose the interaction, etc. but it was about money anyway.  I do question whether this sent a message about allegiance but that would be very subjective.

-Some companies had put incentives for employees to return that were very interesting. Remaking the workspace for more interaction by having coffee bars, cafes, lounge working areas, etc. was evident. Another was regular, in-office events.  I won’t say parties, but it seemed fairly close.  So, creating an environment where ‘you might miss something if you weren’t there’ was an incentive that would be valued by many.  Other incentives I heard about included compensation for commuting and in-office catered food. I’m sure there are other types of incentives I have yet to hear about.

What’s ahead? I think there will not be a wholesale return to the office.  The so-called ‘great resignation’ that occurred during the pandemic would probably get another peak period if that happened.  Instead, we’ll probably reach an acceptance level that will be called the ‘new norm’.  This will be a recognition that if you work for xyz company/organization this will be your work environment.  Period.  This obviously will factor into choices about who to work for.

What this means is that the work environment will become a more important criterion when competing for employees.  It will be interesting to observe how this causes more changes.

Disclosure: Futurum Research, part of The Futurum Group, is a research and analyst firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.  Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually.

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