Future Of Work: Companies Are “Winging” Their Return To The Office

Future Of Work: Companies Are “Winging” Their Return To The Office
A panel observed that usually, when a paradigm shift hits, everybody moves in the same direction – but this time around, this isn't happening.
  • A webinar hosted by Condeco invited workplace experts to assess how companies are returning to the office, and how this is influencing the future of work. 
  • The panel observed that when a paradigm shift hits, usually everybody moves in the same direction – but this time around, this isn’t happening. 
  • Some companies insist on working with line of sight, while others are listening to their employees and giving them the choice to work wherever they feel they are most productive. 

It seems that most of the talk around the future of work centers around the concept of flexibility: flexible schedules, flexible workspaces, and flexible work arrangements, to name a few. 

But why is flexibility so important? Mike Pilcher, Chief Sales Officer at Condeco argued during a recent webinar that “we perceive we need flexibility because we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.” 

Condeco recently hosted the webinar Bridging the Gap Between IT and CRE When Future Proofing the Office. Moderated by Condeco’s Creative Director, Brian Cooper, the webinar aimed to examine how IT and CRE can come together to support the right employee experience. 

The panelists were Mike Pilcher, Chief Sales Officer at Condeco; Todd DeSaix , General Manager of Smart Building Solutions, Industry Solutions at Lenovo; and Sandra Panara, Director of Workplace Insights at Relogix. 

A significant part of the conversation centered around the return to the office, and what that return may look like.  

Cooper began the conversation by arguing that what works in theory is often very different from what works in practice; he then asked the panelists how businesses are managing the return to the office.  

“Employers want line of sight” 

Panara was first to pitch in.  

She argued that it’s important that companies base their decisions not on employee intentions, but on employees’ actual behaviors.  

“Employers want to have line of sight in terms of how many people plan to be in the office. While understanding employee intentions is key, it’s more important to measure whether or not employees who had the intention to go back actually came back into the workplace.” 

It’s the latter that will allow companies to truly understand how space is being used and better predict what the demand of space is going to be in the future.  

Pilcher was next, and he believes that the main challenge in predicting what the return to the office will look like is that there are various ranges of what companies expect from their employees.  

“What I’m seeing is that there is no consistent change. There are companies like Goldman Sachs that want everyone back in the office as soon as possible; and on the flipside you have companies like Twitter, which are saying employees can work from wherever they want, whenever they want for as long as they want.” 

Pilcher argues that, typically, when paradigm shifts hit, they get everybody moving in the same direction. However, this time around, not everyone is moving in the same direction. 

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    Why? Because this time around, it’s not just chief executives and management leaders making a strategic decision; there’s also the element of people dynamics and worker demands.  

    “What I’m seeing is a lot of similarities with what happened after 9/11. It didn’t just affect people at work, but it also hit people very personally.” 

    COVID-19 is having the same effect. The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people live and work.  

    “This is why it’s hard to make a prediction about the future. The theme of today is around the flexibility we perceive we need to deliver today because we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. I don’t think anyone actually knows what the return to the office is going to look like.” 

    Panara pitched in by saying that “companies are winging it [the return to the office].”  

    The good news is that organizations are interested in learning and understanding how people are using space.  

    “It’s not the iron fist saying you must come into the office. Organizations are really taking into consideration how employees feel about working from home or wherever they feel they can be most productive.” 

    Rather than work integrating into the office, the office is being integrated into how people work. The fact that productivity levels didn’t suffer with remote work, despite a global pandemic, is a strong indicator that people today work differently.  

    DeSaix echoed Panara, arguing that “there is no standard employee response to the pandemic and the return to the office.” 

    The only thing that’s certain is that the role of the office is changing. CRE and IT will play an essential role in getting people back into the office, despite what that office may look like.  

    Technology is Key 

    “Machine learning is absolutely foundational for any organization trying to figure out what the future will look like,” Panara said.  

    While in the past CRE typically turned to historical data on occupancy to figure out future needs, looking at historical data is not going to be as useful for companies trying to figure out what their next move should be. 

    Today, it’s fundamental that companies understand what is happening right now, which requires that they look at real-time data. More importantly, however, is for companies to know what to do with that data.  

    This is where machine learning comes in.  

    “Machine learning and artificial intelligence can help companies make better predictions of what the future will look like.” 

    This element of predictability that machine learning and AI provide can help companies make informed decisions about their future space requirements, workspace design, and workspace locations.  

    The return to the office will look different for organizations, based on location, industry, and team dynamics. While organizations may not know what the future will look like for them, leveraging technology can help them paint a clearer picture of their future space requirements and utilization.  

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