I’m old enough to remember when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was some guy who had this crazy dream of making money by selling books online. Sure, some people would ask, “Who’d shop online when you can always get a book from Borders, Crown Bookstores, or Waldenbooks?” They didn’t just miss the boat, they hit the water and drowned — and Bezos laughed all the way to the billionaire bank.
Now, as we slowly recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, some people are expecting we’ll eventually return to our brick-and-mortar offices. I don’t think so. Here’s why.
Amazon became the dot-com dream that made it big because Bezos — unlike many others — realized the Internet had changed everything about commerce. In retrospect, it now seems obvious.
Also obvious: In the past year, we have had our noses rubbed into the simple fact that we really can get work done from our kitchens, living rooms, and home offices.
Some of us knew that all along. (I’ve been working from home for more than 30 years now.) But so many people felt that if work wasn’t done between 9 and 5 and in the confines of office cubicles, it wouldn’t get done. We know better now.
I recently interviewed numerous executives for an IDG Insider Pro story about how they’d managed with a coronavirus-driven staff working from home for a year. The vast majority said it had worked out much better than they expected. They found people were more, rather than less, productive. It turns out folks welcomed not having to deal with long commutes, crowded open-plan offices, or Dilbert-like cubicle farms.
Of course, not everyone is happy. Juggling kids and office work can mean misery. But in a recent Blind professional worker social network survey of 3,000 staffers 35% said they would quit their jobs if work from home ends. That’s a lot.
I’d hate to replace more than a third of my staff if I insisted everyone return to 1 Corporate Drive. If your people want to work from home, and they’ve shown they can deliver, why take a chance on losing them?
Not everyone is on board with the change. As one Microsoft staffer on Blind put it, “I don’t think the 5-day work in the office will ever be relevant again. You will have Team A and Team B, working 2 days in the office and 3 days at home. Social interaction in person is needed.”
Notice, though, that even here, there’s no assumption of a five-day work week. There may be some “fear of missing out,” but co-workers seem to get more than enough water-cooler (Does anyone even still have water coolers?) and work conversations from Slack and Zoom. Indeed, I’ve already had more than enough instant messaging and video conference meetings for one work lifetime.
Let’s get utterly pragmatic for a moment. Commercial real estate costs a lot of money. Given a choice between paying for the square footage you’re not using and just enough for meetings, which would you rather pay? Many businesses are already cutting their office space bills as fast as possible.
IWG, formerly Regus, a local commercial real-estate company, reports office space usage has been shrinking since 1990. Even before the virus forced us back home, many factors — including office costs, flexible work, and the rise of cloud computing — were reducing office footprints. I find it very telling that Regus’s latest tagline is “Serviced Office Space, Coworking & Virtual Offices.” They see what’s coming.
The way IT is spinning into the cloud is also pushing this trend. If your people can work on the same desktop, using the same vertical business app, and with the same office suite at home as they’d get on the 7th floor of an office tower, why exactly do you need them at the office?
Looking ahead, don’t assume that just because vaccines are quickly bringing closer the day we can all see each other again doesn’t mean that we need to see each other in an office carpool.
Take a long look at how your company and your people have done this past year. Has working remotely worked well for you? Is your crew happy? Can you save money by continuing to enable work from home? If you answered yes to these questions, come on, who’s kidding whom? You’re going to be much better off staying the course and staying home to work.
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