How home office working changed everything and nothing.
The unwanted experiment
All over the world employees have been taking part in an unprecedented experiment in working from home. Many are happier, more efficient and want to hang on to the benefits when the pandemic ends. Across industries, leaders will use the lessons from this large-scale work-from-home experiment to re-imagine how work is done — and what role offices and companies should play — in creative and bold ways.
The role of the office
Before the pandemic, the conventional wisdom had been that offices were critical to productivity, culture, and winning the war for talent. Companies competed intensely for prime office space in major urban centers around the world and many focused on solutions that were seen to promote collaboration. Densification, open-office designs, hoteling, and co-working were the battle cries.
On the other hand many employees liberated from long commutes and travel have found more productive ways to spend that time. They enjoyed greater flexibility in balancing their personal and professional lives, and decided they prefer to work from home rather than at the office. Many organizations think they can access new pools of talent with fewer locational constraints, adopt innovative processes to boost productivity, create an even stronger culture, and significantly reduce real-estate costs.
But is it possible that the satisfaction and productivity people experience when working from home is the product of the social capital built up through countless hours of water-cooler conversations, meetings, and social engagements before the onset of the crisis? Will corporate cultures and communities erode over time without physical interaction? Will planned and unplanned moments of collaboration become impaired? Will there be less mentorship and talent development? Has working from home succeeded only because it is viewed as temporary, not permanent?
The reality is that both sides of the argument are probably right. Every organization and culture is different, and so are the circumstances of every individual employee. Many have enjoyed this new experience; others are fatigued by it. Sometimes the same people have experienced different emotions and levels of (un)happiness at different times. The productivity of the employees who do many kinds of jobs has increased; for others it has declined. Many forms of virtual collaboration are working well; others are not. Some people are getting mentorship and are participating in casual, unplanned, and important conversations with colleagues; others are missing out.
The way forward post-Corona
Leading organizations will boldly question long-held assumptions about how work should be done and the role of the office. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The answer, different for every organization, will be based on what talent is needed, which roles are most important, how much collaboration is necessary for excellence, and where offices are located today, among other factors. Many of which are in terms of digital aides. Such as collaborative platforms, cloud solutions and conference software.
How is the work done?
During the lockdowns, organizations have necessarily adapted to to continue their collaboration and to ensure that the most important processes could be carried on remotely. Most have simply transplanted existing processes to remote work contexts, imitating what had been done before the pandemic.
Organizations should identify the most important processes for each major business, geography, function, and re-envision them completely, often with involvement by employees. This effort should examine their professional development journeys (for instance, being physically present in the office at the start and working remotely later) and the different stages of projects (such as being physically co-located for initial planning and working remotely for execution). At CANGURU we have our experts at your disposal to help you identifying these stages and processes. Together, we can find the perfect fit for your organization.
People going to work or work coming to people?
In the past couple of years, the competition for talent has been fiercer than ever. At the same time, some groups of talent are less willing to relocate to their employer's locations than they had been in the past. As organizations reconstruct how they work and identify what can be done remotely, they can make decisions about which roles must be carried out in person, and to what degree. Roles can be reclassified into employee segments by considering the value that remote working could deliver:
fully remote (net positive value-creating outcome)
hybrid remote (net neutral outcome)
hybrid remote by exception (net negative outcome but can be done remotely if needed)
on site (not eligible for remote work)
The office, a social gathering place
Organizations could create workspaces specifically designed to support the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely. If the primary purpose of an organizations' space is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration rather than individual work for example, should 80 percent of the office be devoted to collaboration rooms? Should organization's ask all employees who work in cubicles, and rarely have to attend group meetings, to work from home? If office space is needed only for those who cannot do so, are working spaces close to where employees live a better solution?
To maintain productivity, collaboration, learning and to preserve the corporate culture, the boundaries between being physically in the office and out of the office must collapse. In-office videoconferencing can no longer involve a group of people staring at one another around a table while others watch from a screen on the side, without being able to participate effectively. Always-on videoconferencing, seamless in-person and remote collaboration spaces (such as virtual whiteboards), and asynchronous collaboration and working models will quickly shift from futuristic ideas to standard practice.
In any case, the coming transformation will use a portfolio of space solutions: owned space, standard leases, flexible leases, flex space, co-working space, and remote work. Before the crisis, flexible space solutions held about 3 percent of the US office market. Their share had been growing at 25 percent annually for the past five years, so flexibility was already in the works. McKinsey research indicates that office-space decision makers expect the percentage of time worked in main and satellite offices to decline by 12 and 9 percent, respectively, while flex office space will hold approximately constant and work from home will increase to 27 percent of work time, from 20 percent.
Solving the problem the CANGURU way
We at CANGURU have also taken part in this global experiment in finding the optimal solution between home-office and on-site working. Knowing that the ideal solution is dependent on the organization and sector, we set out to find the best of both worlds. Promoting collaboration through 'physical' contact and high performance with home-office.
As such we gave the power of decision into the hands of our consultants and thus an equilibrium of both types of working regimes emerged.
In a high project-dependent environment we found that key meetings, such as decision points, high level planning meetings, risk identifying meetings, and creating a work breakdown structure meeting, are more successful if the participants are physically in the same room. This promoted interaction and gave focus on the task at hand. Other meetings, of a more informative and broadcast nature, for example a project kick-off, can be performed virtually. Also daily standup meetings, if we look at a more agile project, can be held remotely.
On top of categorizing the types of meetings we also needed to instill a culture of using collaboration software. This kept a good oversight and overhead on the numerous projects ongoing at CANGURU.
Ready to jump?
Organizations must also use this moment to break from the inertia of the past by dispensing with suboptimal old habits and systems. A well-planned return to offices can use this moment to reinvent their role and create a better experience for talent, improve collaboration and productivity, and reduce costs. That kind of change will require transformational thinking grounded in facts. Ultimately, the aim of this reinvention will be what good companies have always wanted: a safe environment where people can enjoy their work, collaborate with their colleagues, and achieve the objectives of their organizations.