I have been saying for months that no one size fits all regarding the return to the office. You can book that based on my conversations not only with CEOs, but with many employees in a wide variety of positions in companies. We are at the beginning of a great experiment that will take about a decade to play out as long-term leases expire. Some employees will benefit from a return to the office, and others may not.
For the person who is ambitious and wants to move up in the company, he or she needs to be around in person to make the important connections. For someone who has an appealing personality, it is to their advantage to be seen in person. For someone with charisma, good humor, and an attractive manner and bearing, sitting in their sweats on Zoom at home hampers their career prospects.
On the other hand, someone who has already made it at a company, does not enjoy office politics and schmoozing, who is not looking to advance further or has given up trying is less likely to be enthused about going back to the office.
Let’s also consider the psychological aspect. For people that are treated well in a positive working environment with some privacy, comfort, light and free food, the office is an enjoyable place.
Unfortunately, the world being what it is not every employer is benevolent or on the 100 Best Places to Work list. Indeed, some people may think that they are employed at one of the 100 worst places to work. Why would they want to go to the office when they can avoid abusive or mean bosses, or even if that is not the case, being crammed together like sardines in a dimly lit quasi-Dickensian modern-day workhouse. Add onto that a commute of an hour or more each way to work, and is it any surprise that they don’t want to leave their living room?
However, for many young people who live in small apartments, for parents who are competing with children for space and attention, or just someone looking for a change of scenery, the office is a welcome place for privacy and socializing. Indeed, a psychiatrist wrote a letter to the New York Times said that gathering in a group for a common project can be exciting and energizing.
And let’s not forget single people. They may welcome the opportunity to gather collectively five or more times a week with interesting and stimulating people. Seeing those same people is not the same on Zoom. To be fair, others would be happy if they never saw the people in their office ever again.
Of course, the ultimate decision-makers deciding on the form of the return will be the company’s managers. Some managers believe that in the absence of a large office presence the essential elements of culture, continuity and vital in-person training (which should continue throughout an employee’s entire career) are lost. Other managers will see an easy opportunity to cut spending as leases come due and provide those employees who want to work at home a perk that costs nothing and in fact may save the company money.
But here’s a word of caution from a recent Harvard Business Review article by Dan Ciampa. It suggests that managers should take care not to overvalue employee surveys regarding the number of days they want to spend in the office when it becomes safe to return. As a result, opinions may change or evolve after several months of relative freedom and people become more comfortable with the idea of leaving home to work. I have seen that in my own office in another form, when a fully vaccinated senior broker came back to work with other fully vaccinated employees. At first she was apprehensive, but seemed to settle in quickly and enjoy the camaraderie (after all, who wouldn’t enjoy hanging out with Eric). It’s a process.
So that’s they way I see it. More importantly, what do our friends and clients think? Please let us know.
Be safe and well.