The Future Of The Office Is Not One-Size-Fits-All
The most pressing challenge for leaders today is determining how their organizations should work in this new environment. We look to data to help us make decisions, and no matter what a leader’s feeling is about working from home versus in the office, they are bound to find some survey, graph or chart that will support their position or narrative.
Making the right decision for your business takes introspection and courage; sometimes it means not moving with the pack, but rather honing in on the needs of the people within your organization. Because the workplace is made up of distinctly different human beings, every company is unique in its needs.
However, while work from home is a hot topic, and many employees are pressing for it, it simply doesn’t work for some companies. This is especially the case for organizations filled with collaborative and highly skilled roles. Also, organizations that are more sales- and customer-service-centric than many other industries need the human connection that makes their teams stronger and more nimble and promotes career growth.
A one-size-fits-all model without considering other factors can lead your business down a dangerous path. Here are some factors to consider when navigating the new landscape.
Growth And Learning Opportunities
Millennials make up a majority of the workforce, and much of their experience has occurred in a traditional office setting — a connected, in-person environment. Working from home looks different for this sector of the workforce. Gen Zers who are right behind them in age, are entering the workforce in droves. These young professionals benefit tremendously from in-person connection with quick access to senior leader resources. I believe anything short of that will stunt their professional growth as the learning opportunities don’t arise exactly when we plan them.
My company’s entry-level employees expressed relief coming back into the office. The emotional cost of the uprooted routines, absent relationships and worry about job performance were taking their toll — more than anyone had realized.
On-the-job learning and improvement happen optimally when they are live, supportive and on the fly. The deepening of confidence gained by in-person relationships cannot be matched. In my observations, role-play, skill-building, encouragement and correction happen more regularly face-to-face, helping to exponentially impact the growth of young professionals.
The Cost Of Workflow Disruption
No matter what level you’re at in the office, there are few replacements for the fluidity of workflow when it’s done in person, particularly for the small businesses with less than 100 employees that make up more than 98% of the companies in the United States. Small businesses work lean and employees must wear many hats for the company to stay competitive. Constant communication ensures that goals and objectives stay on track. While there is the argument that employees have fewer distractions at home, the same can hold true in the office; it completely depends on the make up of your organization. Again, a one-size-fits-all doesn’t apply here.
Impact On A Nurtured Culture
I have yet to find a series of programs and apps that can replace the bonding that takes place when overcoming a huge challenge or closing a big deal. Laughter in the office, high fives — these are things that cannot be translated very well digitally. Philosophically, interacting at this level is how we were made to live optimally.
In addition, I find that software training can be done more expeditiously in person, and it gives employees more confidence in the usage of critical tools. It’s easier to ask a quick question about how to use a certain platform when an employee can ask the person next to them. It can make another person feel good to lend a helping hand.
Similarly, and funny enough, an employee can feel relief when they overhear another associate having the same question. Often we learn something new because we are in earshot of another person’s dilemma. Isolation at home on a long-term basis impacts these relationships and impedes growth and the practice of interaction. It breaks down the culture of the organization.
Large companies that have multiple layers of people and technology may have reinvented what company culture and interaction looks like, and it may even work for them, however, for the majority of businesses — especially those with fewer employees — I find that it can have a detrimental impact.
A Humanistic Approach
When we take into account the most effective workplace approach possible, the humanistic perspective becomes vital and is the key to the longevity of a business. The popular narrative of work from home may not ultimately be that great for many young people and smaller businesses. Rather, I see a more nimble, flexible workplace as the golden ticket — one where working in the office is primary for most roles. This empowers employees to have autonomy over their day and creates more opportunities for an open and human-centered environment.
Even without the recent changes that the pandemic has imposed, one thing is for sure: The rigid 9-to-5 schedule no longer works. From what I have experienced and seen, the solution for the future is a hybrid model — a blend of core hours where work is conducted in unison and strong partnerships are developed while still giving workers flexibility outside these core hours.