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WorkSpace Wednesday: Where Do We Stand With Returning to the Office?
One question dominated the work-during-a-pandemic discourse: When and how will employees return to the office? Many enterprise leaders and workplace strategists saw hybrid work as the way forward, splitting time between in-person and remote work modalities in the hope of boosting employee engagement and productivity. But now, squeezed by concerns of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and the ongoing Great Resignation, the future of work is still up for serious debate.
With this uncertainty, many enterprises are revisiting their return-to-office plans. In my most recent WorkSpace Connect article, I argued that the Omicron variant would usher in a new wave of companies pushing back their return-to-office date. Three days after that article was published, Google announced it will not require employees to return to the office on Jan. 10, 2022, as initially planned. Additionally, automaker Ford pushed back the start date of its hybrid work model to March 2022, a Ford spokesperson said in a statement reported by CBS News. Other companies like Uber have also announced similar plans.
While it was a safe bet to assume that some large enterprises would push back their return to office date yet again, the Omicron and the latest Delta surge delivered the one-two knockout blow to the idea that 2021 would be the year of the great return to the office. That’s not to discount the many companies that piloted hybrid work programs or had more employees head back into the office, but watching high-profile public companies push out office returns sustained the feeling that we’ve endured another year of waiting for Covid to end, so we all can return to a pre-pandemic way of life and work.
This state of flux — of some enterprises returning to the office and others waiting to see what happens next — is also reflected in recent research from Metrigy, as President & Principal Analyst Irwin Lazar shared in his latest WorkSpace Connect article. In a survey of 400 organizations, Metrigy found 21% of organizations required their employees to return to the office, 24% provided employees with a choice, and 38% based where an employee works based on their role. From the research, Metrigy saw a “significant trend toward returning to the office,” from January to August of 2021. The research ends right before the peak of the fall Delta surge in the U.S. and Omicron variant concerns.One wonders if that trend towards heading back into the office might reverse itself.
In addition to these different working styles, organizations are rethinking the purpose of the office and how it should be configured. Metrigy found that 62% of the organizations expect to use their space in the same way as they did in the past (a place for both individual work and meetings), while 19% see the office only as a place for meetings, and 16% see it primarily as a place to do individual work. Many enterprises are taking these dynamics into consideration and adjusting their office spaces, accordingly, bringing HR, IT, and facilities departments together to make it all happen.
These departments and others though have a history of coming together to address workplace issues and will need to work closely in the future, Microsoft MVP Randy Chapman noted in a recent No Jitter on Air podcast. In creating hybrid work-ready conference rooms, IT professionals from communications, security, and other areas of IT would need to have a stake in the project to ensure an optimal user experience, while facilities professionals can provide the insight and expertise to physically reconfigure the spaces and mounting video displays and other devices, Chapman said. “Not everybody that has a screwdriver can do this [kind of work],” Chapman added.
The keys to the workplace’s future rest in the ability for professionals from IT, HR, facility, and other departments coming together and working collaboratively to address workplace issues.
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