Among some friends and family, I’ve started to notice a discernable shift in attitude toward the office. Such an ominous destination in the early days of the shutdown, the office has become far less foreboding to them.
From what I can tell, in my admittedly unscientific survey, this is only somewhat due to feeling safer, health-wise, in the office of today vs. in the office of mid-March (as companies are taking precautions, like temperature checks, mask requirements, frequent cleaning, and lower density). What it really boils down to is missing the office environment — the people and the technology. Eight months in, they’re willing to trade off the risk of exposing themselves to COVID-19 for the reward of camaraderie and better access to the stuff they need to do their jobs well.
Generational and cultural norms may be coming into play somewhat, so I’ll let you decide whether this is foolishness or a testament to the human spirit — or American work ethic. But what I will say is this, the ability to work remotely is the purview of the few — the “highly skilled, highly educated workers” in a few industries, occupations, and geographies, as McKinsey Global Institute wrote in a report
on remote work published earlier this week.
In studying the future of remote work, McKinsey examined 2,000 tasks and 800 jobs in nine countries. It found that 20% of the “workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office.” The impact of long-term remote work at that level is far-reaching, McKinsey wrote. At that level, three to four times as many people would be working from home than before COVID-19 hit, and that “would have a profound impact on urban economies, transportation, and consumer spending, among other things.”
But more than half the workforce, McKinsey wrote, “has little or no opportunity for remote work.” People working on the frontlines of health care and public safety leap to mind, as do those toiling away on factory floors, retail outlets, restaurants, and schools (to some degree). But here’s another group that it calls out: Those whose jobs require “collaborating with others.”
While working from home has largely proven more successful than most employers could ever have imagined, the benefits of working in an office can’t be shunted aside. McKinsey put it this way: “… employers have found during the pandemic that although some tasks can be done remotely in a crisis, they are much more effectively done in person.” Among such activities McKinsey named in its remote work assessment are:
- Providing advice and feedback
- Building customer and colleague relationships
- Negotiating and making critical decisions
- Innovation, problem-solving, creativity, and other work that benefits from collaboration
McKinsey’s findings and this list certainly speak to us here at WorkSpace Connect since supporting such activities is at the heart of building a connected, collaborative workplace.