Let’s get one thing out of the way: We all look at the world through different lenses. A millennial might look at things from one perspective. A Gen-X CEO could have a very different opinion.
Right now, many Gen-Zers and millennials believe work from anywhere is the future. It’s worked for two years, and they’ve Zoomed in from Des Moines or Denver. It’s also fun to see the social media posts of people who are working full time while on the road in extremely remote locations. What a way to make a living!
As an office tenant representative broker, I think there is a stoplight on the remote highway, however: FOMO.
For companies with some people working in-office and some working remotely, fear of missing out (FOMO) will likely become a real issue as more and more people attend in-person meetings and return to physical locations to conduct their daily tasks. Important discussions will occur, and many tenured CEOs are accustomed to reading the body language of those in the room with them. And the senior person’s lens is often critical to the future career success of their subordinates who want to move ahead.
Many senior executives have spent most of their work life in offices, and I’d bet that raises, promotions and complements will find their way to those who are in a chair in the same room or office as the corporate leader. Let me assure you: Some enterprising colleagues who are present in the workplace will reap the career benefits, with promotions and better bonuses.
But what about the new technology and remote collaboration skills that have developed during the pandemic?
Will hybrid work remain a trend? Absolutely. And tech will continue to enable better communication in a virtual setting.
Will some portion of the workforce who have highly desirable skills and jobs that tend to attract introverted people remain location-agnostic? You bet.
Do many jobs require innovation, team building and contributions to culture? Of course, and those jobs and employees will likely function far better when together in person.
Collaboration is suffering in the remote world. We can’t just pop in a room for a quick meeting with a colleague. Also, many are missing that casual conversation that happens before and after meetings. Today we may jump from one virtual meeting to another without creating those serendipitous interactions that lead to innovation and deeper bonds. How many times have you heard someone on a video call say, “I’ve got a hard stop at the hour”? Another hour, another video meeting in which we are all business all the time.
I’ve talked to a number of C-level executives who blame the “Great Resignation” on the highly unusual world we were forced into because of Covid-19. March of 2020 was basically a mass evacuation from normality in a very scary time in this world. For many, this led to two years of being disconnected and sitting at home in stressful conditions. Kids, dogs, life partners and distractions can abound in the home environment. Having a true home office with a door to shut out the noise was a dream for many.
We are at a moment in time where talent has enormous leverage. I see this in the social media posts of those loudly proclaiming they will never work in an office again. As things slowly return to normal, I think that will change for some people.
I would also point out that in jobs where employees are truly able to work fully remote, HR may eventually look to reduce labor costs by outsourcing that work. There are people around the world who would like to get in on some of those high-paying jobs.
A young person whom I mentor reached out to me recently and said, “How do I show hustle on a Zoom call? I want my boss to see how hard I’m working, but we don’t get any one-on-one time. And it’s really hard to get a word in edgewise on those large video meetings.” The frustration was evident in his voice, and I really felt sorry for him.
An overarching leadership theme in these unusual times is to meet workers where they are. If they need support at home or in a co-working setup, or even in a coffee shop, the real estate and HR team has to get focused on solving problems. In the past, real estate types thought about “sticks and bricks” first and people second. It’s time to reverse that trend.
Working in a remote or even a hybrid environment requires leaders to use different “chops.” Overcommunicating is important, and sending messages in multiple ways will help. We know from research that different people process information in different ways; some like email, some visual and some the spoken word.
Also, one-on-ones will become critical to maintain culture and make sure workers are not only surviving but thriving. Small commitments of time—even 15 minutes—on a regular basis can have outsized results in employee attitudes.
In a normal Covid-19-free world, I believe the office will be much more popular, even if that means having a hybrid arrangement where employees come in only a couple days a week. Two years of working from home have given us new video skills, but this time period hasn’t changed thousands of years of human nature. From my perspective, we need to be together. And if we maintain some level of flexibility and choice as to when we come in, returning to the workplace can be a smart career move.
For the sake of learning and the next promotion and the one after that, many people will want to be within the four walls of an office. They will want to be “in the room where it happened.”