Forward to the past

Bloomberg about people forced to go to an office to do the same work they have been doing from home:

With Covid cases relatively low, companies are increasingly calling their employees back to in-person work, at least for part of the week. Executives usually cite collaboration and work culture as reasons to return. But once in the office, workers are finding that Zoom meetings are still a central aspect of the day. 

Two years working from home have transformed lots of jobs. Where teams are spread across multiple locations it no longer makes sense to go to an office. There is just nothing there, that works better than at home. You just spend a lot of time and money commuting.

Companies have compressed their office space. A lot fewer desks per employee. If you now force them to return to the office, you have to do it part-time. Some at home, some in the office. If your co-workers are at home, why should you be in the office?

We will need some time to understand “hybrid work”. I think going to the office needs to be focused on events. How is it working for you?

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15 thoughts on “Forward to the past”

  1. Oh well, yea – I agree to your thoughts.
    I’m in the office today – but noone from my team is.

    Still, I personally enjoy being in the office exactly to meet other people that are NOT part of my team.
    I enjoy talking, socialising and ensuring that I can a glimpse of the challenges other parts of the organization get through.

    I’m looking forward to also specifcially meet with others in the office – but I will most probably be working from the office only in the morning (or afternoon).

    Why can I do that? Going to the office is a 10min bycicle ride! – It doens’t cost anything and helps me to traing up a bit, too. Obviously, not everyone is in that fortunate situation.

  2. It’s funny, when we were trying to sell Groove networks to an ungrateful public twenty years ago, we foresaw how this was already panning out, we were trying to persuade others, and trying to cater for it. The video implementation wasn’t quite there yet within Groove, but was on the way.
    The world wasn’t perhaps ready for it then, but increasing fuel costs allied with faster and more reliable networking is pushing workers down that road even without the Covid factor.

  3. Working from home means a decent, productive length of time actually, you know, *doing stuff*, dual screens, a proper chair, decent food and good coffee.

    Working from the office means 3 – 4 hours commuting, £50 – £120 in travel costs, and a compressed working day at a shared table with terrible coffee, no screens and limited elbow room.

  4. Ben summed it up nicely – weirdly, Infrastructure in office tends to be worse than at home. Have explicitly been told by corporate IT that I cannot expect same speed / latency from office network as from home DSL. Find the right balance between home and office also making it attractive / useful / worthwhile for people to come in will be the challenge for the near future…

  5. I’ve gone down a slightly different route and rented my own office close to home. It gives me the space and quiet I need, with a ten-minute ‘commute’ separation from home, but without all the negatives associated with a corporate office.

    As Ben shared, I simply couldn’t imagine full-time working alongside colleagues in an organisation’s HQ now – it’s been more than 14 years since that was a requirement, thank goodness!

  6. We have cut back our office space. But we can’t do without an office altogether. Some colleagues don’t want to work at home. And occasionally you do want to meet colleagues in person, as well as customers. But it’s almost always about meetings, not about “heads down work”.

  7. I think a lot depends on your age or where you are in your career as well: I was in the office all the time in my twenties, and rightly so. There are requirements for coaching, meetings, “being seen”, and so on. In this day and age, that still needs to happen from time to time I imagine.

  8. A topic near and dear to my heart, given my current role (Real-time Collaboration Director). I agree with your assessment. Going “back the office” on random days for no specific purpose accomplishes very little, in my opinion, and costs a great deal (lost efficiencies, reduced work/life balance, wasted time and money commuting). To make matter worse, many corporations are using “hybrid work” as an excuse to significantly reduce the services and amenities. For example, no more permanent desk assignment, just randomly sit where you can find space. No cafeteria, everyone drive offsite to a restaurant. No ability to customize your workspace, no tweaks for personal comfort, no pictures of your family, no personality. And significantly worse technical capacity than you have at home. The result is a workplace that is unwelcoming, ineffective, and irritating. If your entire team works in one facility, having designated days to go to the office physically can improve collaboration and connect people more closely, especially people who are on newer teams. But if your team is scattered across the country or the world? The only reason to go to the office is for a specific, designated event. That said, extroverts need to see people more often, even if they don’t work with those people. If I ran a company, I would sell my commercial real estate and hold regular events at rented spaces monthly.

    And that, of course, is the heart of the problem: that commercial real estate cost a LOT of money to acquire and will not provide a good return on that investment now – and leases can also be difficult to escape. The company’s executives don’t really believe that bringing people back to those physical locations is better for their company – they just don’t want to take the economic hit while THEY’re in charge. They’d get smaller bonuses. And I’m not being snarky here.

  9. What Ben said.

    With the addition of… Mine is a 5 hour total commute.

    In previous times I might get to the office early and often work late. Not anymore. And yet when I’m working form home I do often start early and finish late.

  10. I think the report of the death of the office is an exaggeration. It obviously depends on where you live. We are having a hard time convincing our employees in London to come back to the office while in Reykjavik most people are happy to go to the office at least most days a week. Five hour daily commutes like Ben’s are just madness, they’ve always been. Mine is two times 15 minutes walking or 5 minutes biking. Plus, we have a great office with lots of space, great internet connection, a kitchen and a cook, great food and excellent coffee. I think there is an upside of bringing people and teams together, both for the company and the individuals, not only when you are at the beginning of your career. We are all social creatures and need personal interaction. It’s good to leave your home in the morning and get some fresh air, it’s good to come home in the evening and leave work behind. But one size does not fit all. It’s a blessing that Covid has opened our eyes to give people options.

      1. As someone once said: I do my best proofreading after I hit send 🙂

    1. The UK is incredibly focussed on the big cities – London, Birmingham, Manchester – to the detriment of others. I work part-time for a huge company, and I live in rural Norfolk. However, my “home office” is London still: there is simply no office presence in the regional hubs like Norwich or Ipswich (or even, at a pinch, Cambridge).

  11. My company does “home office” in the extreme: Office workplaces are the absolute exception. So I’ve always had home office even before the pandemic. In the beginning, after coming from a very hybrid model of Microsoft, it was really difficult because I totally missed the (occasional) social contact. Now I enjoy it and visits to customers or partners become a welcome change, but during the pandemic they dropped to a threateningly low level. If I were looking for a new employer, a flexible home office arrangement would be an absolute prerequisite for me.

    1. NB: When Germans and Brits say ‘home office’ they don’t mean the same thing. As far as I can see Ben is referring to his ‘main office’ whilst Ingo means ‘working from home’. As a German I take the liberty to say: Pity that we cannot simply say ‘(von) zuhause arbeiten’ but seem to assume we need to use/invent English terms (that do not always make sense).

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