As COVID-19 vaccinations roll out, CEO’s and business leaders are considering if, how and when workers will return to offices. Global corporates such as Amazon, Citigroup Inc., Goldman Sachs and Netflix have all publicly supported a return to the office, stating that the office remains the primary workplace. In this article we examine some of the issues facing top executives and warn against rushing headlong into all-remote working.
Business leaders are now considering how many employees will be returning to the office and how best to facilitate the return. Given that more employees will be working remotely than ever before, how should tasks best be handled? And how will company culture be impacted by a fragmented workforce?
Guiding principles for business leaders
The following guidelines may help business leaders through this challenging time and help them to formulate answers to some of these key questions.
1. Business leaders are advised to resist pressure to define a policy or make hasty final decisions on going fully remote. It’s important to avoid steps that create unrealistic expectations or limit options, instead buy time to gather more information and leave workplace strategy options
2. When considering the return-to-office options, CEOs are advised to keep their personal preferences close to their chest for fear of influencing objective analysis. Similarly, CEOs are warned from making definitive declarations on going remote at this stage of the process.
3. Whilst employee surveys provide valuable information on the opinions of the workforce, CEOs should be aware that opinions can change over time. Leaders should consider employee surveys in the round, as one information source amongst many. Polling Managers separately is recommended as it is difficult to manage remote teams effectively, so adding weight to the opinions of the management team is wise.
4. Leaders should appreciate that the size of organisation is relevant to these choices. Larger organisations need a level of predictability and are reliant upon policies and procedures. A smaller organisation can afford to try and see what works and then change accordingly.
5. When considering moves towards remote working, business leaders should be asking “what will we not be able to do if we go too far in that direction?” Whilst technological advances can ease the path towards remote working, leaders need to evaluate whether this is the best solution to achieve their objective.
6. Business leaders must factor in the costs to culture of over reliance on remote work. “Real” teams cannot be built online. In general, online discussions tend toward brevity, with less depth and fewer exploration of consequences, and there is little time to think and reflect.
7. Finally, leaders should avoid being overly influenced by high-profile companies (like Google, Twitter, Facebook, Adobe, and Oracle) that quickly announced plans to permanently embrace remote work. Often the most vocal advocates for expanded remote work are in industries that have the most to gain financially: software development technology companies.
In conclusion, the decisions that CEOs make over the next few months will set the tone for how work will be done in the future, impacting the relationships employees have formed and their emotional connection with the company. The office is central to this relationship. Business leaders are urged to look again at their workplace strategy and review all the options at hand. They should think long and hard before abandoning the office, considering all the implications of going fully remote.
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