Why we may never go back to the office as we know it…
Can you recognise this office?
I recently shared this picture at a speaker gig and asked the audience if they knew which Australian office this is. After various well-known brands were volunteered as guesses, I revealed that what we are looking at is a sneak peek into Australia’s Newest Maximum Security Prison. Hunter Correctional Centre is a state of the art maximum-security prison housing 400 male inmates 150km north of Sydney.
The horrifying thing is that nobody in the audience guessed this correctly, which begs the question. Are we satisfied with our current, pre-COVID-19 standards of office spaces now being on par with modern prisons?
Let that sink in and breathe for a moment…
In NSW, many of our corporate clients have reached out to us asking for change support to help their employees go back to the office. Naturally, as a professional and business owner, I was initially tempted to agree with my usual “can-do” attitude. However after months of living with COVID-19 restrictions, something in my intuition didn’t feel right about this and I felt I wouldn’t be of service to clients if I didn’t challenge this notion. So I did and I simply asked why…Why after everything we have been through, learnt and experienced in 2020 would we want to go backwards? Why would we give up this incredible opportunity to re-imagine work, find a better balance and explore other options that are more cost effective and produce better results from what we are seeing from other companies leading the Work-from-Home Revolution?
Recently, according to Forbes, many CEOs are coming to terms with the fact that office centricity is now over with leading brands (Facebook, Twitter, Square, Shopify, Coinbase, Upwork, Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Capital One, Zillow, Slack, Amazon, PayPal, Salesforce) are embracing this new paradigm and evolving their cultures and work practices from inside out. Closer to home, even big banks like Westpac are on board, seeing a rise in productivity and reduction of excessive costs and working around our human need to connect with WFH hubs.
A recent Gallup poll revealed, “Now that some of these employees may be able to return to their workplace, it appears only a quarter are emotionally ready. Another quarter are reluctant to return specifically because of concerns about contracting COVID-19, while half have a personal preference for working remotely.”
Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, said,
“77% of the workforce say they want to continue to work from home, at least weekly, when the pandemic is over.” Lister estimates, “25% to 30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics (GWA)
Amidst some negative resistance to changing to a new model of work, the reality is quickly starting to sink in for leaders, teams and individuals alike that:
- The genie is out of the bottle and has resulted in an overall increase in demand for work-from-home from employees.
- Archaic and limiting beliefs have been challenged over COVID-19 and there appears to be a reduced fear about work-from-home among mature managers and executives.
- COVID-19 has created a disaster preparedness mindset which increases pressure for work-from-home going forward.
- There is an increase in awareness of cost-saving opportunities in work-from-home modelWorking-from-home has a significant impact in reducing carbon footprint for sustainability.
- Reduced business travel means cost savings and increased productivity.
Another factor is the radical rate at which smart technology is evolving, with mobile devices readily available at affordable prices and pervasively used. The possibilities and opportunities of new power models, autonomy and flexibility are limitless and even JLL has some incredible predictions for mixed reality work in 2030 (our team’s bets are that this will be the norm even sooner than that):
We are preparing for a future where change can happen anywhere, whether that is in the remote isolation of space, in a physical location or even a hybrid somewhere in the middle, embracing modern practices like human-centred design and collaborative technology.
It is also why as change consultants, we are challenging our clients to think out the box and take advantage of this once in a generation opportunity before us. I recently finished reading Robert Greene’s, The Laws of Human Nature, which deeply explore people’s conscious and unconscious drives, motivations, and cognitive biases. I fell in love with this quote, as it is spells out what our coaching clients are saying universally and across the board:
“And there are three qualities to people’s Self-opinion that are nearly universal:
“I am autonomous, acting of my own free will”;
“I am intelligent in my own way”; and
“I am basically good and decent.”from “The Laws of Human Nature” by Robert Greene
A new, flexible work-from-home model speaks to our very human nature as it allows us autonomy over our own time, to focus on results and express our own intelligence and free will, and to be trusted that we are good and decent human beings as micro-managers are replaced by unbiased, automated digital controls. For me the question is not as much why we should go back to the old way, but rather why wouldn’t we move forward into this bright new future of work.