Hurrah – the long-awaited vaccine is finally here! Thanks to this wonderful news, businesspeople can finally look ahead to the future with some confidence that a return to normalcy is possible within a year’s time, and hopefully sooner. John Maynard Keynes said that businesses will not expand unless they believe that tomorrow will be better than today. Now that belief can become a reality after a successful vaccine distribution strategy is implemented.
The decision on when and how to return to the office will be made by senior management, not the rank-and-file employees. While remote working can be a perk offered to productive employees, it is management which needs to take that decision after carefully weighing the pros and cons with a dispassionate cost-benefit analysis. But they will also be aware that the ties that bind our companies together are fraying due to the work from home phenomenon, however successful it has been as a temporary workaround (perhaps the subject of a future blog).
As a corollary, it is telling that the technology companies which are best suited to work remotely are the ones that have taken long term leases of large blocks of New York City office space like Facebook, Google, TikTok and Amazon. They are the firms that are the best predictors of the future, and they know that self-isolation is a dead end and human beings need to gather together.
Of course, most employees want to stay home at least a few days a week, if not the entire week. Who in their right mind wants to commute to work on crowded buses, subways, rail lines or sit in traffic for hours on end? All those in favor of that uplifting experience, please raise your hands.
But that is not the question for management. Rather, the issue is whether companies are more productive with employees in the office and whether the additional expense of the office is justified. By the time we fully return to safety, we will have over a year of data which will support informed analysis of the impact of remote work on productivity.
So let’s see how management reacts when it becomes safe to return to the office and there are no longer issues of potential significant liability from making employees return. My anecdotal research shows that most CEOs actually like coming to the office and are champing at the bit to return. They are generally treated very well there in a comfortable environment, and sometimes even better than at home by indifferent or even disrespectful family members and pets. Others enjoy the camaraderie and ideas generated by a collegial workplace, and are proud of being part of a successful team with the company mission and branding that often accompanies financial success. While executives may want to be out of the office on Fridays and for longer vacations, they also appreciate the convenience and value of an in-person working experience without employee distractions caused by remote work.
The smart landlords will play their part in encouraging companies to return with more flexible lease terms, pandemic protection causes and lower rents. Others will try to hold the line and hope the problem will disappear once there is a vaccine. That would be a serious mistake. White-collar companies now have a choice in how they want to organize their operations and they will be looking for the office configuration that is best for their bottom line. In addition, they can easily opt for cheap sublets with substantial savings if their leases are coming due.
Happily, the great tradition of an in-person office meeting with coffee and bagels (but no donuts or Danish, thank you) for breakfast and sandwiches or even more substantial fare for lunch will be returning soon. Count me in – I can’t wait!
So that’s the way I see it. More importantly. What do our friends and clients think? Please let us know.