With the option of returning to physical office spaces coming ever closer, companies are beginning to think more carefully about what office life should look like. In particular, business leaders are assessing the advantages and disadvantages of various answers to the following questions.

  • Who (if anyone) will be required to come into the office?
  • When will they be required to come in?
  • Why will they be required to come in?

Answers to the first two of these questions are discussed by Lauren Hirsch and Matthew Haag in their New York Times article. For example, it was noted that Spotify recently launched their “Work From Anywhere” initiative, which will allow any of its 6,550 employees to work from wherever they want. On the hybrid side of the tripartite divide, Revolut, a banking start-up based in London is reported by the New York Times as planning to allow its more than 2,000 employees to work abroad for up to two months a year. Google will be enacting a different approach to hybrid work schedules with their “flexible workweeks” during which employees will spend at least three days a week in the office and the rest at home. Finally, on the everyone in the office side, companies like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase expect most employees to return to the office for most of the time.

As can be seen based on the variety of strategies listed above, there is no one size fits all solution. So, how can you determine which strategy is right for your particular business? Here are some questions to consider when making that decision.

  • Did your employees enjoy working from home? Some people like working from home and others don’t. Nicolas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University, attempted to investigate this experimentally in order to find out just how many people are on each side. Bloom’s study found that 30 percent of U.S. employees never want to return to working in the office, while 25 percent never want to spend another day working from home. Understanding the attitudes that your particular workforce has towards remote work could go a long way towards determining what makes the most sense for your business.
  • How did remote work impact job performance? Employers should examine whether productivity improved or worsened for each position. If there exists a big disparity in terms of the effects of remote work on the productivity of employees in various positions at your company, this may be a reason not to require everyone to come in for the same amount of time, or on the same days.
  • What is the culture of your company? Companies should choose strategies that align with and promote their culture. For example, as Brodie Boland notes in his article, companies that value talent development “should ask whether the small moments of mentorship that happen in an office can continue spontaneously in a digital world.” To the degree that they can’t, there will be a need for employees to come in, at least part of the time.
  • What kinds of interactions are required for your employees to do their jobs well? Some interactions are more difficult than others to replicate in a digital format. Among those that are more difficult to replicate are what Bloom refers to as “bounce interactions” and “social interactions.” Bounce interactions involve “new idea generation, as with an impromptu whiteboard brainstorming session.” Because idea generation can be particularly cognitively demanding, and because video chatting can be anxiety-provoking and mentally draining, the qualities of the ideas put forward might suffer. And when it comes to purely social interactions, they aren’t the same when filtered through a screen. To the extent that these interactions are required to boost company morale and preserve work culture, in-person social interaction will be essential.
  • Do you need access to a wider pool of talent? Prior to remote working, companies were more limited when it came to the pools of talent from which they could pick employers. If a competitive applicant wasn’t located within a commutable distance or willing to move to such a location, they wouldn’t have been able to accept a job offer. By offering remote or mostly remote work, employers can gain access to a much larger group of skilled applicants.
  • What impact would your return-to-office strategy have on socio-economic disparities? Some potentially popular strategies are at risk of negatively impacting historically disadvantaged groups. For example, according to Bloom, forming strategies which let everyone chose for themselves where and when they want to work will have a disparate impact on women. In a study conducted by Bloom, it was found that women want to work from home almost 50% more than men do. In another study, Bloom found remote employees had a 50% lower rate of promotion after twenty-one months than their colleagues in the office. Collectively, this means that the let-them-choose approach might result in women being offered fewer promotions just because they are working from home. Employers should be on the lookout for outcomes like these when forming their return-to-office strategies.

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