As many organizations settle on a hybrid work set up for their return-to-office initiatives, there are still plenty of disconnects between organizations that want their expensive offices to be used and workers who have grown accustomed to the benefits of working remotely full time.
Forrester VP and Principal Analyst JP Gownder offered some tips and best practices for this uncomfortable moment in time in his presentation, Everything You Need to Make Hybrid Work at Forrester’s Technology and Innovation 2022 event in Austin and virtually.
“This is a time of great disruptive change, and maybe it’s not just about the pandemic anymore, but there’s plenty of systemic risk and changing attitudes among your employees,” he said.
Organizations are faced with a new kind of balancing act between employees who are increasingly demanding anywhere work and the need to make sure that all business priorities are being accomplished, Gownder said.
One of the dangers in the current reality is something called “presenteeism.” That’s when employees are required to return to an office for a certain number of days per week because that’s the established rule.
Gownder said that Forrester interviewed 46 organizations and more than 700 employees about hybrid work and return to office.
“They would say things like, ‘I’m back at the office, but I don’t know why. I feel like I’m being monitored. I’m coming in and doing the same kind of work I’ve been doing remotely for two and a half years – very effectively – by the way. But now I have to commute.’” Gownder recounted.
“They don’t know why they are there. People can feel disengaged, and especially we hear about people coming to the office and then spending the entire day on Zoom, like talking to people who are not even present with them,” Gownder said. “There’s nothing more soul-crushing than being told to check a box of presenteeism that doesn’t add value to your daily journey as you are trying to get your work done . . . And you know it means that some of your employees are starting to look over the transom.”
Will a Job Market Shift Change Worker Attitudes?
At this point, some executives may wonder why that matters. Executives have asked Forrester if the economic uncertainty in the market right now is making employees more circumspect about their protests of return to office and hybrid work. Indeed, news reports have said that big tech employers are planning hiring freezes and layoffs. While it’s true that we are currently experiencing that economic uncertainty and some speculation about whether there will be a recession that could impact the job market, Gownder warned that executives still must balance their responses.
“There are classes of workers who will retain power, even under bad circumstances – your top 20% of performers,” he said. “Not every job category is equal. And right now, frankly, we remain in a talent crunch.”
Employers can dictate the number of days a week for workers to be in the office, and even the specific days. For instance, Apple has said that employees must work in the office on Tuesday and Thursdays plus one floating day for a total of three days per week.
“They’ve received some blowback from some of their employees about that,” Gownder said.
Forrester recommends that organizations start thinking about what sort of work is accomplished at the office versus what kind is accomplished anywhere. What do offices offer that employees cannot get from working anywhere else. Gownder referred to this as “purposeful, planful experiences that will engineer punctuated moments. This is where you say, ‘Hey, we’re going to bring folks together into the office for these particular reasons to work together as a team.’”
The point was best illustrated by one of the executives Forrester interviewed as part of the research, according to Gownder. This person said, “The office is no longer the place we go to do work. It’s the place we go to do work together.”
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