More than half of all American adults have been vaccinated, according to the Biden administration, and life is seemingly speeding back to normal. But offices aren’t quite sure how to approach bringing back employees, especially now that so many jobs can be done from home in pajamas.
Companies are exploring hybrid schedules of some remote work and some in-person. In a recent study from McKinsey, nearly 30% of employees would consider switching jobs if their employers mandated going back to the office full-time. Most want to work from home at least part-time.
There’s a hunger to return to the office after more than a year of working remotely, says Anne Helen Petersen, who’s been writing about remote work in her Substack newsletter called Culture Study. She’s also the author of “Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home.”
“They are sick of being in their homes all the time. And they also want the novelty of being around coworkers and being in a different space,” she tells KCRW.
But she predicts that novelty will soon fade.
“There's gonna be a desire to really have a more hybrid and flexible schedule that works with the rhythms of a person's day and person's week, instead of simply saying that every single person, no matter the type of work that they do, should be going to and from the office at a certain hour every day.”
It’s that flexibility in their schedules that feels the most attractive to a majority of employees right now, says Tsedal Neeley, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and author of “Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere.”
“Individuals have changed. Organizations have changed. And many that I've even talked to who were completely looking forward to having everyone back and to return to the good old days have been stunned when they survey their people who say, ‘No, we want more flexibility and if we don't get it, we will quit.’ So I think at the end of the day, it's going to be an area where we're going to experiment, learn and iterate over time.”
Petersen says because of this, employees have a lot of power within their hands right now. That’s due in part to a hot job market.
Neeley points out that the current situation can also spell out opportunities for companies.
“If people think more broadly about redesigning and reimagining the future of work, they can actually begin to expand the talent pool and hire people who may live in rural parts of the country and still have them be a thriving member of their community,” Neeley says. “So it's about expanding and thinking about how can we use flexibility not only to empower the people we have, but when we need to hire, we can go beyond where we've been before?”
Petersen adds that flexibility will help diversify the employee makeup at a company. It’s due in part to a larger pool of candidates that would be able to fill the position.
There could be danger from being isolated or disconnected when working remotely, but Neeley says the proper digital workflow tools, such as video conferencing, can help mitigate those issues.
Petersen adds, “There was just this accepted wisdom that somehow productivity would go down, and you wouldn't have control over your workers. And that was proven wrong. Sometimes to change the status quo, you need to have a rupture as significant as a pandemic.”
Neeley says right now, it’s critical to find new workplace solutions in a post-pandemic world.
“Work has changed. … It's all about looking forward and designing workplaces that accommodate not only the best that we can pull from a flexible workforce, but using technologies, intelligent ways to convene, to democratize, to increase our talent pool. … And have people whose job satisfaction is higher, and productivity as well. It's all good news.”