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Hybrid Work Gets Messy: Don’t Blame the Workplace Metrics

Pitinan Piyavatin Alamy Stock Photo.jpg

Image: Pitinan Piyavatin - Alamy Stock Photo
Despite a myriad of workplace obstacles — a possible economic downturn, recruitment challenges, and employee resistance to full-time return to office, to name a few — many workplaces have made 2022 the year that they returned to the office. That's not to say workplaces aren't hitting some snags on their way to the future of work.
One snag that some workplaces are running into is exemplified by a story about JPMorgan Chase and its return-to-office (RTO) plans, as first reported by Business Insider. As part of its RTO policy, JPMorgan began checking office attendance by tracking ID swipes to ensure that employees are working in the office three out of the five workdays in the office. Employees claim this is creating a sense of mistrust and micromanagement in the workplace. Not only have non-managerial employees expressed concerns with this RTO plan, but JPMorgan managers expressed that they are afraid of the consequences of not complying with the mandate a 100% of the time.
The story provided an example of an RTO plan gone awry, but it also raised questions around workplace privacy and the use of workplace data analytics — questions that’ll surely pop up more and take on new forms as more employees head back into the office.
While some were quick to highlight the attendance tracking as what’s wrong with the workplace plan, the idea of “tracking” employee whereabouts is certainly not new. These types of workplace metrics and analytics have been a staple of the modern workplace well before the pandemic. The punch-in/out clocks existed for over a century, and key fob and building access technology have been used for years without employees so much batting an eye. Both provide information on where employees are at a given moment.
Also, employee whereabout data isn’t just about making sure employees are being productive; it can save lives. What happens in case of a fire, a natural disaster, or an active shooter? Without workplace leaders having access to accurate information on where employees are, they can’t respond accordingly. This is at the heart of E-911 regulations, which you can learn more about on our sister site No Jitter.
Workplace leaders in HR, IT, and real estate/facilities need data to do their jobs and to help employees have a safer and more productive work experience. IT professionals can use metrics to see if people are using a specific collaboration app, HR managers can use employee surveys and activity to gauge employee wellbeing and wellness, and real estate/facility professionals can use office space utilization software to maximize the value of real estate holdings.
Data in and of itself isn’t the problem — the problem is how leaders lay out their RTO strategy and how they ultimately use data to enforce that plan. As we’ve seen time and time again, some leaders have failed to read the room — what employees really want — or denied or dismissed the real productivity boosts that many organizations saw during the pandemic. Most notably, a former Google CEO shared his strong support of in-office working, seemingly ignoring the employee satisfaction and productivity data collected over last three years, as Enterprise Connect GM Eric Krapf shared in a No Jitter article.
As RTO plans came into focus, one thing we’ve heard time and time again was that employees wanted more workplace flexibility. For instance, Slack's April 2022 Future Forum pulse survey reported that 94% of employees favored schedule flexibility, and 79% favored location flexibility. So, many employees aren’t necessarily opposed to the idea of returning to the office in some fashion, but they are definitely opposed to workplace policies that ignore flexibility altogether. The Slack Future Forum also found that 68% of all knowledge workers preferred hybrid work over other working styles.
Historically, workplace policies around where and how employees work have been prescriptive – apply to everyone equally all the time – but now many employees are looking for a personalized approach that takes into consideration their specific workplace requirements and fits with their lifestyle. This seems to be the case for JPMorgan. It went bullish with RTO, ignored the current workplace climate, and produced more workplace stress and frustration for its employees.
JPMorgan missed an opportunity to lead with transparency and work with employees to meet their current work/life requirements, which could have improved the employee experience. As I argued in a December 2020 WorkSpace Connect article on workplace metrics, many workplace issues spring from a lack of a strong workplace culture. Transparency is a hallmark of a strong workplace culture – and having transparency can help workplaces use metrics to continue improve.
And while workplace leaders in HR, IT, and real estate/facilities have little influence over the workplace discussion on where employees ultimately work, they’ll definitely have a crucial role to play in steering the use of workplace metrics and analytics and sharing their perspective on how best to use them. Using data in a vacuum will most likely cause problem for workplaces in the future, but data with context – and employee consideration – might be the right combination to unlock the future of work.