In 2005, Professor Lynda Gratton took her son to East Africa to stay in a Maasai village. She hoped to educate her son about a different way of life, one that was different from modern Europe. The perception of a unspoiled life was shattered.
On the second day, the Maasai guide walked with them into the surrounding countryside. Then something happened. From his belt pocket, the warrior took out a ringing mobile phone.
Lynda Gratton wrote an iconic book in 2011 called "The Shift", where she made predictions about the future world of work. These seemed almost like science fiction at the time, but they are now extremely relevant today.
The book focused on a future where decentralized working became the norm. She described a deeply fragmented and isolated life for some highly skilled workers. Yet for others, the experience would lead to immense co-creation and collaboration in a vastly more dynamic and productive work environment.
Putting theory to the test
Nine years later and Lynda Gratton's theories feel like they have become reality. Just like the discovery that a Maasai warrior has a mobile phone, our perception of the world and work has been shattered forever.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted our lives in unimaginable ways. We are now strongly considering a world, where work will become decentralized to some extent. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, such a scenario was almost unthinkable.
Yet, it has unleashed a complex set of problems and issues that need to be addressed. At the heart lies a possible polarise workforce. There are concerns that some employees feel they are more productive at home. By contrast, others would prefer to work in the office. However, research reveals that skilled workers would prefer neither scenario.
What do workers actually want?
Working 100% in an office or working from home permanently, represents two polar extremes. According to survey data, most skilled workers would like a mix of the two.
Last month, CRM software providerSalesforce conducted a global survey to gain a pulse check on how workers viewed the prospect of returning to work. They found that 64% of workers still wanted to spend some time working in an office, as opposed to working entirely remotely.
More remarkably, 52% of workers stated that they were comfortable sharing personal information like health data to keep the workplace safe. And, 70% of urban workers still preferred to work in cities, rather than in the suburbs.
Although working from home offers a great deal of freedom, personal contact with colleagues is still missed.
But re-opening an office is not so easy
Regardless of how employees feel, catering to their needs is not so simple. Companies face many new challenges with reopening offices.
There are now so many considerations that never existed before. There is, for instance, enhanced cleaning, employee health monitoring, redesigning workplaces, contact tracing, and many other factors. It's an operational and logistical headache for many medium and large-size firms.
Subsequently, a variety of choices have been made. In some instances, companies have been rotating staff: half the staff work in the office and the other half remotely, which is then rotated the following week. Other companies meanwhile don’t expect any of their staff to return until the New Year. Meanwhile, a few companies have even mandated that working from home could become permanent for some staff.
It’s all about economics
In the end, however, the decision that companies make might be based more on what makes financial sense, rather than on what employees want. It’s clear that in a post-coronavirus world, running an office will be considerably more expensive than before, due to the new safety measures required.
The cost per desk will have increased considerably. Consequently, working from home might even become mandatory for some workers, regardless of whether they want it or not.
As the global economy enters a recession, cutting costs will be vital for some companies to survive. Getting rid of desk space is one solution. We might, therefore, need to embrace working from home whether we like it or not.