Imagine you’ve been working remotely for Google for the past two years. You’ve gotten used to the perks of working-from-home: no sitting in traffic, no worries about catching COVID at an in-person meeting, the ability to drop-off or pick-up your kid at school, the freedom to wear athleisure all day long.
What would it take to get you to return to the office? Would a free scooter help?
Like many tech companies, Google wants remote employees back in the office, but knows there’s resistance. While 50 percent of company leaders want employees back in-person full-time, 53 percent of workers now prioritize flexibility, health, and well-being over work—especially younger, “generation Z” workers.
Managers cite the benefits of face-to-face interaction when it comes to training junior employees, strengthening coworker relationships, and fostering an engaged company culture. Remote workers, however, are reluctant to compromise their work-life balance or pay sky-high gas prices to commute. They also point out that tech companies have posted record profits during the pandemic, with largely remote workforces, leading them to question why in-person work is really needed.
The Flexible Workplace
Faced with the new realities of worker expectations, many tech companies are offering flexible, hybrid work options: a mix of on-site and remote work.
- Google asks workers to come in three days a week but allows them to remain remote the other two days
- Salesforce.com encourages in-person collaborations but leaves it up to individual teams to decide where and how they want to work
- Microsoft asks employees to return to the office but allows them to also work-from-home up to 50 percent of the time
Some organizations have even more generous work-from-home policies.
- Twitter declared that employees may work-from-home “forever,” though its offices are open for employees who prefer to work on-site
- Facebook allows full-time employees whose jobs can be done remotely to continue working off-site, even after the pandemic ends
The hybrid model isn’t perfect, though. Anyone who’s ever attended a meeting where some participants are on Zoom while others are on-site knows the challenges that a hybrid setup can present, including technical difficulties and less-cohesive team dynamics. Companies must also ensure equity and be mindful not to favor on-site employees over off-site employees for plum assignments, travel opportunities, and career advancement.
“Virtual First” and Asynchronous Models
In part to avoid the complexities of a hybrid model, companies like Dropbox promote a “virtual first” strategy where all employees work primarily remotely, but with occasional in-person meetings requiring a return to the office. Primarily remote teams can also organize “off-sites”—company retreats at hotels, Airbnbs, resorts, and vacation destinations—to encourage team-building, increase morale, and cultivate their company culture.
In addition, some organizations offer asynchronous work environments that allow employees to set their own hours and work wherever and whenever they want, so long as they remain productive and deliver results. Asynchronous communication may work well for remote teams with members based in several different geographical locations and time zones. Companies can also alternate between synchronous and asynchronous work strategies, depending on the needs of individual team members and projects.
The Post-Pandemic Work Landscape: Return to the Office? Maybe Not So Much
What does the post-pandemic work landscape look like? In the immediate future, it will probably look a lot like what we have today, but in the not-so-distant future, it may look remarkably different.
In Mark Zuckerberg’s vision, we will be shopping, exercising, gaming, socializing, and working in the metaverse, a virtual reality (VR) environment where—with the aid of VR goggles and motion-capture gloves—we’ll interact with each other’s 3D avatars in digital spaces that look, sound, and feel like real-life. The metaverse could address some of the alienation of today’s remote workers by allowing them to strike up conversations and collaborate with colleagues in virtual hallways and offices.
The Wall Street Journal interviewed architects and entrepreneurs to imagine other offices of the future. The possibilities they came up with include:
- Self-driving cars as mobile workstations (imagine a bench replacing the driver’s seat and a computer interface replacing a steering wheel and dashboard)
- Virtual reality software that allows workers to virtually attend office meetings
- Workstations in open-office layouts that can instantly become private four-walled spaces with the push of a button
- Technology that allows remote workers to be beamed into meetings via hologram (consider that holograms are already being used to bring deceased singers back on stage)
- Augmented-reality glasses that allow workers to transform any surface into an interactive screen for productivity
The offices of the future may sound like science fiction, but they are being conceptualized, iterated on, and built today.
Conclusion: Preparing for the Future of Work
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