With July 4 approaching, many of us will be hitting the road for long-awaited vacations. However, some holiday-makers will be traveling on the QT while keeping their trips secret from their employers. According to a recent Harris Poll, 48% of American workers (and 56% of Gen Z and Millennials), do not tell their bosses about their July 4th vacations.

The pollster explains that the reason for this stealth travel is because employees are afraid to take all their Paid Time Off. However, the workaround is possible due to the widespread adoption of remote work.

Of course, this tug-of-war between management and labor doesn’t come out of left field. For example, Wells Fargo recently fired several employees for “unethical conduct” because they manipulated their computers to give the false appearance that they were working on them when in fact they were not.

In a less unscrupulous vein, there was a recent Wall Street Journal article which noted that home shopping is at an all-time high. That’s hardly a scoop. Now we’ve also known people are doing that for a long time, just as they are watching sports and playing Solitaire among other things. If your employees are just doing that as opposed to more potentially problematic diversions that I will let you use your imagination about, you’re ahead of the game.

However, as is not uncommon in business, the bank is fighting the last war. The employees are generally one step ahead of the bosses. In fact, this escape from the office has been going on for 20 years in a more limited form. For example, how many people have been leaving the office early to see their children play sports or do some other activity, with one eye on the kids and the other on their phone or laptop.

With all of this going on, who is still working in the traditional sense? Is there anyone left who is willing to stand a post to get the job done? According to a recent column in the Financial Times, the latest UK trend is WFH – that is, Work From Hairdresser. ?Take it from me, that is not a good idea. Nobody wants to see a woman in a tin foil with their hair slathered with creme on a Zoom call. So you can count me out from that particular tin foil hat brigade.

On a more serious note, the fact is that in order to keep talented employees, companies must accommodate hybrid work. For example, a recently reported study of over 1600 workers at an online travel agency in China during 2021 and 2022 by work from home guru Nicholas Bloom of Stanford found that the productivity of two control groups consisting of a team that worked full-time and another that worked three days a week was roughly the same. However, the employees who were working on a hybrid basis were 1/3 less likely to leave the company, thus saving the cost of replacing them, which was approximately $20,000 per employee, adding up to millions of dollars in savings for a big company.

But what is productivity? As our brilliant English friend Michael Hobbs has noted, how do you measure it? How to account for differences between industries? Is it by the quality of jobs completed? Is it by revenues and/or profits? Inquiring minds want to know. Some skeptics might point out that productivity is a very elastic concept, to mix economic metaphors.

To me, the best approach to work from home seems to be a relatively straightforward question of setting clear and defined standards for the quality of an employee’s work product. It’s no great surprise that some people work well remotely, and others might perform better in a more structured, formal setting with managers on the scene. That’s fine, but what to do with those remote workers who were not so great to begin with? And if they are incorrigible and won’t listen to direction (like Eric), it may be best to just leave them be. Since he is very creative and productive, it would be foolish to fit him into some preordained paradigm that doesn’t work. The old adage of different strokes for different folks may be what works best.

Now here’s the good news. Four years on from the pandemic, American business (with the exception of certain real estate sectors as we have chronicled) is doing pretty darned well. It’s a tribute to American ingenuity and adaptability that we found a better and more technologically advanced way to work arising out of a worldwide catastrophe. As we celebrate our country’s independence, we can also celebrate a new form of independence in the way we work at the same time.

Even in its new form, there’s plenty of use for the office. The old office is dead – long live the new office! Whatever that is, we at Wharton Property Advisors can help you find the bespoke solution that fits your company best.

Thank you,

Ruth Colp-Haber

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Wharton Property Advisors