In my recent client conversations, work from home (WFH) is the primary topic, along with if, or how, a return to the office will take place. IT, business, HR, and facilities leaders continue to struggle in an ever-changing environment with how to plan for the future. Key questions include:
- Will, or should, people return to the office?
- What’s the right approach for supporting a mix of WFH and office-based workers?
- How do I ensure that teams are able to function cohesively when some members work together in person, and others are remote?
Unfortunately, there’s no single right answer, especially as the pandemic disrupts earlier plans for a return to the office. Facebook, Slack, Twitter, and a number of other high-profile companies have recently announced that employees now have the option of working from home forever, while most others will support WFH for as long as necessary for employees whose roles don’t require a physical work presence.
The challenge for organizations is that WFH isn’t right for everyone. In studying attitudes about WFH since the start of the pandemic, Jason Dorsey
, a leader in generational research, has found significant differences
among age groups. Gen X (born between 1965 and 1976) most prefer to work from home, while Gen Z (born after 1996) struggle more with working from home. That younger generation is just starting out in the workforce and is reliant on establishing personal relationships to build networks, achieve visibility for their efforts, and tap into the knowledge and experience of co-workers, activities that are much more difficult to do when the only intra-company interactions are through video conferencing and team chat.
A successful WFH and return-to-the-office strategy provides employees with the flexibility they need to work in their location of choice, while at the same time meets the needs for a safe workspace and universal access to collaboration tools that at least replace some of the personal interaction that is often no longer available. At the same time, organizations are likely to be exploring potential real estate savings they can gain if they no longer must support a large number of office workers; this, in turn, may further constrain available choices.
Potential approaches include:
- Leveraging flex-work locations such as WeWork and Regus offices to enable those who want to work in an office environment the ability to do so
- Allowing for a return to the office in a limited fashion that supports social distancing and density limitations
- Creating a flexible work schedule that includes a mix of in-person and remote-work days
- Distributing authority for work location decisions down to managers who may want to have their teams onsite, or who may want to provide different levels of flexibility
In addition, HR and business managers should develop plans to establish mentor relationships between younger and older workers as a means to assuage fears that younger workers will not have the same opportunity to advance as previous generations.
We continue to work in an unprecedented environment. Collaboration tools such as team messaging and video conferencing have closed some of the gap between remote workers, but still aren’t a full replacement for the interpersonal relationships that can only be built by in-person engagement. Consider a flexible work strategy that allows different groups to primarily work as they wish, but that also allows for a mix of approaches that can bridge the generation divide.