The Office is Not Dead but Transformed

The COVID-19 crisis has forced many to work remotely. Now with the slow return to work, the realization that a hybrid work model may be emerging as the Now Normal work situation. However, mixing remote and on-site workers presents new challenges.

It was quickly accepted that most of the workforce who could work remotely during the early phase of the COVID-19 crisis did so. Although there were technology challenges, such as sufficient network bandwidth, security, and learning new software.

What also emerged was that getting work done had to be different. An abundance of Zoom meetings is burning out the workforce. Managing remote work became an integral skill. Companies like Virtual Team Builders provide management and workers with the skills to work together remotely.

Some large organizations like Shopify have moved to a total virtual environment. But that is not the norm. Now, many organizations are starting to move towards re-populating the office. They feel that they are a face-to-face organization where daily spontaneous interaction is key to their success. A local company I spoke with said they have transitioned to a 50% office occupancy as a first step to return to the office.

For example, Canon’s U.S. headquarters in Melville, N.Y., decided in early July to allow no more than 50% of the company’s employees to come into work at the 52-acre office campus. This is a facility that features two ponds and a walking trail, and typically includes more than 11,000 staffers in a single building.

Returning is voluntary at this point. The company has blocked off desks to allow for greater distancing, stepped up cleaning, and created a rotating schedule so that staffers come in on alternating weeks.

More companies now envision a hybrid future, with more time spent working remotely, yet with opportunities to regularly convene teams. CompuCom Systems Inc., the IT service provider owned by Office Depot, is looking at instituting “core hours” for its employees, similar to office hours that professors hold on college campuses. The idea under consideration is that teams would agree to come together for a limited time on certain days of the week to bounce ideas off each other, collaborate and strategize.

Online education provider Coursera expects half of its 650 employees to work “blended” hours once the pandemic passes, with staffers spending three days a week in the office and the rest remote, says Chief Executive Jeff Maggioncalda.

No matter the model there is a dichotomy that results. The on-site staff have access to spontaneous interactions while the remote workers do not. Conference calls are held with a group in one room while the rest are on Zoom. This sets up an us vs. them environment that must be managed. The Canada School of Public Service has been experimenting with this hybrid work model. They found that it is best to have everyone on the conference call on their own individual devices. This equalizes the playing field so that no one feels left out and not engaged. This observation validates what Virtual Team Builders has been teaching for years.

The Office is not dead… but it will be transformed for the coming future.

The hybrid work force presents new challenges for management in terms of employee engagement, collaboration, and resilience. There are few companies such as Virtual Team Builders who are ready to assist management in this transition. Just contact me to find out more.