Sweet dreams are made of this
For years, technology has reframed our relationships with work, working hours and workspaces. This shift only accelerated in 2020, forcing employers to rethink the give-and-take with employees and their experiences. New opportunities abound to innovate in areas such as culture and talent as we enter an era of prototyping what the future of work could look like.
In December 2020, millions of office workers were still working at home, which effectively means they're living at the office.
For a significant proportion of workers, working from home has become living in the office. That’s having a huge effect on the reciprocal agreement between employer and employee. Previously, for instance, we could assume that our employers would cover the cost of much of what we needed, like our desk, chair, computer and internet access. But many of us are covering these costs ourselves now that we’re working at home. And while employees still get paid, the peripheral value of being physically present in a workplace—social capital, knowledge transfer, soft skills and hands-on experience—has been lost.
Meanwhile, services that facilitate remote collaboration have, unsurprisingly, seen their user numbers spike. The office as a place of work is not dead, but different organizations are now considering other options. We can confidently surmise that the future won’t be one-size-fits-all —in fact, it’s possible that the employee experience will look different for every organization. In one global survey, three quarters of workers said they want a mix of office and remote working to become the new norm, with a half-and-half split seen as the ideal balance.
Working at home comes with features and challenges that companies will need to work through with their employees. How might we reimagine the employee experience in 2021?
Importantly this is not just about office workers: it’s about all work that can be done remotely. And remember that displaced office workers affect many more who service them.
There are opportunities for employers to innovate in four main areas:
Technology: Many organizations that kept digital transformation at arm’s length have now embraced it. Soon, hardware and software that revolutionizes work-from-home experiences and team collaboration will likely be commonplace. Companies that invest in them earlier can gain a competitive edge.
Culture: Employers will need approaches to corporate culture specifically tailored to virtual teams. But companies should recognize that many variables that make up culture are not within their control—ad hoc communications between colleagues are valuable in preventing isolation.
Talent: There are opportunities to innovate around valuing and rewarding talent. Location-based pay bands will need to be reassessed, while in recruitment, remote working allows employers to cast a wider net than ever before. Support for home working will become an employee perk, with packages including anything from home broadband and office furniture to childcare or senior care support. This is also a two-way street: if talent can be anywhere then employees and employers can cast their net far and wide.
Control: Ensuring home workers perform assigned tasks is a growing challenge for employers, raising an array of questions about control. For instance, implementing effective cybersecurity for remote workers will be essential, but it will highlight issues around privacy. Sales of surveillance software to monitor home workers have boomed, but at what cost to the employer/employee relationships?
The office as a place of work is not dead, but many organizations are now rethinking it.
Consider the ethics of remote work. As you examine the changing landscape of where and how your employees engage with the company, the reciprocity lens—what you give and what you take—must be central to your thinking. Acknowledge that each employee’s home is still their personal space and that their privacy and freedom is important.
Articulate which parts of the home-working mindset you want your employees to bring back to the office, such as dress code, working day flexibility or measuring productivity by output rather than time spent at their desk. Vice versa, too: what is usual at work that should also be present at home?
Design your technology-plus-culture solution for flexible working and resilience.