In the analyst community, we’ve been red-flagging a clear (and expensive) trend: companies that are building huddle and conference rooms in office buildings under the assumption people will want to come into the office to use them. There is virtually no empirical data that this will be the case. And a recent study by the Blind Blog professional social network shows that even tech companies are all over the map, suggesting should survey your people before making any decisions.
Let’s talk about what’s likely to happen post-pandemic and why you need to stop your plans until you and your employees are in sync.
The Blind Blog survey results
Blind is a social network like Linked-In that’s focused on business professionals. It has around 4 million users, which isn’t large enough to represent businesses worldwide but isenough to spot specific trends. The survey results suggest that what many believe is about to happen — a partial or complete return to the office — not only may not happen this summer but may not happen in some companies at all.
One of the interesting results is that many of those surveyed don’t believe their feelings are considered. Nearly all respondents believe most would be back in the office by year-end. But there was a preponderance of workers saying they aren’t ever going back.
Some of the comments include:
- “I’m not going back to the office ever.”
- “I love WFH. The idea of driving to work every morning for 45 mins to an hour is so silly to me right now. We get back an [hour] and a half to 2 [hours] of commute every day we don’t get paid for. I think we are effective remotely, especially in the tech field, since most of our time is spent on work and not on small talk around the office. The only people who I think might feel otherwise are the managers since they spend most of their time on meetings since video calls can be very draining.”
- “I never want to see the office again due to commute and having to dress up every day. Mostly commute and having to get up at the crack of dawn.”
If forced to go back, they warn that productivity could drop: “If I am forced to go back in the office, no way am I going to put in the same amount of time I do right now with WFH. Once I leave the office, I am done outside of answering a few emails.”
There are also signs of age-related conflicts. One employee at a large tech company said: “Boomer bosses think they can just put the genie back into the bottle. Well, that’s not going to happen to anyone with an ounce of talent. No commute time, commuting cost, getting sick because someone in the office is sick, and less pollution and traffic.”
Perks to the rescue?
Interestingly, what seems to attract people back to the office isn’t the collaboration, but the perks.
“[Facebook] and [Google] employees will go back to office 100% ASAP due to free food,” said one person. “I need my free food,” said another. “I will suffer through my luxury shuttle ride for an espresso and waffles, followed by an exotic cuisine for lunch and a three-course dinner. Maybe mid-day, I’ll even drop by the sweet shop for some homemade ice cream or a tart. Followed by a trip to the brand-new gym to burn some of it off.”
That last was from a Facebook employee and it suddenly has me wanting to check out their cafeteria. I’m also wondering how you even do a cafeteria now.
There is no consistency around a return to work and what people plan to do, which creates risks around any related decisions. The right perks could get a significant number of people to return, but many workers seem to be moving away from that prospect and won’t return regardless of the perks.
When this kind of disparity exists, you need to understand what your people are thinking and decide whether you want to change your plans or work around them. If you don’t try to find out what your employees want or expect, you may be surprised. Imagine, for instance, approving a multi-million-dollar office upgrade only to find your employees refuse to come back in.
Going back to work could turn out to be more disruptive than the shift to work from home last year, because companies appear to be out of touch with employee feelings and employees appear to be out of sync with company plans. That kind of disparity could lead to productivity disasters if employees revolt directly or passively. (The latter is often called the Blue Flu in law enforcement.)
Understanding what employees expect to happen is the first step in developing a post-pandemic plan. Before you spend money redesigning your office space, make sure that money isn’t wasted by confirming your employees want to come back to the office. I’d also suggest you keep track of employees who have been vaccinated, or who had COVID-19, and identify the most critical employees. Then put in place policies to assure these critical workers aren’t accidentally pushed out as an unintended consequence of your post-pandemic plan.
If there were ever a time to get and maintain a well-founded sense of what your employees want, this is it. Plan accordingly.