employees walking

Work from anywhere: The end of the office?

Transforming Workplace - #16

Author:

 

Global Publication May 2022

This is the 16th paper in our Transforming Workplace series. In our previous paper, we discussed how to make ‘work from anywhere’ work better.

We now examine whether the day of the office, as we know it, has ended. The key question is: if “remote work makes people happier, healthier, and even more productive”1 why would employees want to return to the office?

In response, we believe many employees are attracted to the office (at least some of the time) for:

Collaborating with team members and building relationships
  • “Collaborating with team members and building relationships.”2
Meeting with managers or (attending) company training programs
  • “Meeting with managers or (attending) company training programs,” which less experienced employees are “more likely to value.”2
Avoiding the possibility of feeling marginalised, invisible and expendable working remotely
  • Avoiding the “possibility of feeling marginalised, invisible and expendable”3 working remotely.
The fear that those doing in-person work will have more opportunities for career growth
  • The fear that those doing “in-person work will have more opportunities for career growth.”4
Being more comfortable for whatever reason in a space that is not their home
  • Being “more comfortable for whatever reason in a space that is not their home.”5
Rekindling the friendships, acquaintances and pleasant interactions
  • Rekindling “the friendships, acquaintances and pleasant interactions.”6
The collision of ideas
  • “The collision of ideas. The possibility of advancement. The desire to be in the room when and where it happens.”7
   

Organisations also need employees to return to the office (at least some of the time) for good reasons:

Culture-158
  • Culture - “few executives think company culture will survive a purely remote working set up.”2
War for Talent
  • War for Talent - “if employees never or rarely come to the office or spend time together, how can a company’s distinctive ‘feel’ be maintained – and then, how can companies differentiate themselves in the war for talent?”8
Identity and Belonging
  • Identity and Belonging - “for now, the purpose of an office is to give a company identity (and) substance.” The office “gives people a sense of belonging.”5
Morale
  • Morale - “it is important for staff morale and workplace cohesion that employees know each other as more than a series of tiles on a group video call.”9
Employee Recognition
  • Employee Recognition - when a leader “says thank you over Zoom, it’s not the same as someone shaking your hand and making eye contact and saying thank you.”5
Socialisation
  • Socialisation – integrating new recruits “into the company’s culture, whether they’re interns, entry-level hires, or seasoned executives.”8
Team Building
  • Team Building - plus “networking and the cross-pollination of ideas that come with in-person interaction.”10
   

However, letting employees choose how many days to work in the office is a risk:

Young ambitious single men come into the office and charge ahead
  • “Young ambitious single men come into the office and charge ahead.”11
Women who are at home with children fall behind and dont get promoted
  • “Women who are at home with children fall behind and don’t get promoted.”11
Remote work is especially preferred by people belonging to underrepresented groups
  • Remote work is “especially preferred by people belonging to underrepresented groups”1 (including women, minorities and people with disabilities), so “a few years down the track, there’s a lack of diversity in leadership.”11
   

Leaders can avoid this risk by scheduling team members to work in the office at the same time (where possible). This would also benefit employees, who: 

Know how hard it is to join in on Zoom with a group of people who are in the room together
  • Know how hard it is to “join in on Zoom with a group of people who are in the room together.”11
Can get left out of small exchanges and minor decisions made by those who are working together in th
  • Can “get left out of small exchanges and minor decisions made by those who are working together in the office. Over time, as people get accustomed to who’s looped in and who’s not, they can get left out of bigger conversations and more important decisions.”8
   

So what else can organisations do to encourage employees to return to the office for at least some of the time? Apart from introducing more workplace ‘freebies’, another initiative is to redesign the office.

Employees today “want offices that feel more like the home environments they’ve (become) accustomed to.”1 To cater for this need, some office design ideas to consider are:

“Booths or areas to sit down and have a cup of coffee. Lounge spaces to sit and talk. Traditional conference spaces. Places introverts could get away. Gathering spaces for people to come together in an informal way.”11 

More meeting rooms and community kitchens where the team can cook a meal together 
  • “More meeting rooms and community kitchens where the team can cook a meal together.”12
Operable windows, outdoor terraces, and a wellness center 
  • “Operable windows, outdoor terraces, and a wellness center.”1
   

In conclusion, our view is that even in the new world of widespread ‘work from anywhere’, offices still have a vital role to play, and provide significant benefits for organisations and their employees.

Norton Rose Fulbright assists organisations to efficiently and effectively address the legal aspects of the new global work environment, including working from anywhere. Please reach out if we can assist your organisation in this respect.

Our next paper will focus on the best ways to overcome the leadership challenges arising from ‘work from anywhere’.


Footnotes

1 W Chan, Guardian, ‘Tacos, Treehouses, Virtual Golf: Top Firms try to Bribe Workers Back to the Office’, 15 April 2022.

2

PwC US Remote Work Survey, ‘It’s Time to Reimagine Where and How Work Will get Done’, 12 January 2021.

3 B Lufkin, BBC Worklife, ‘Why Workers Might Eventually Reject Hybrid Work’, 21 September 2021.

4 CBC News, ‘Most Canadians Want to Keep Flexible Workplace, but Many Worry Remote Work Will Hinder Career: Survey’, 29 October 2021.

5

K Morgan (quoting E Bernstein and M Dixon), BBC Worklife, ‘Remote Work is Working. So, Why do we Need a Physical Space?’, 22 July 2021.

6 B Delany, Guardian, ‘Colleagues Aren’t Celebrated Much in the Annals of Friendship – But I’ve Really Missed Mine’, 18 February 2022.

7 D Ziffer, ABC News, ‘Work From Home is the new Normal as Employers Struggle to Make the Daily Grind Work’, 5 January 2022.

8 M Haas, Harvard Business Review, ‘5 Challenges of Hybrid Work – and How to Overcome Them’, 15 February 2022.

9 C Wahlquist, Guardian, ‘Maybe I Should Just Stop and Enjoy my Life: How the Pandemic is Making us Rethink Work’, 15 January 2022.

10

Businesstech, ‘South Africa’s Office and Work-From-Home Plans have Changed for 2022’, 27 December 2021.

11 K Morgan (including quotes from N Bloom and J Olmstead), BBC Worklife, ‘Why In-Person Workers May be More Likely to be Promoted’, 8 March 2021

12

H Ren, Sydney Morning Herald, ‘In 10 Years, Remote Work Will Simply be Work’, 17 February 2022.



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