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THE RETURN TO A NEW KIND OF OFFICE


 


As companies are contending to find the most convincing incentives to persuade their employees to return to offices, knowledge workers are in no rush to give up their comforts and freedoms and would rather take this time to consider their options. The balance of power has seemingly shifted towards the workforce and management would be wise to take note of this development if they are to secure their talent.


The beginning of the pandemic and the following, albeit forced, remote work experiment was filled with hurdles for both companies as well as employees. Although it could have arguably gone over smoother if given more time, we had the technological developments and frameworks in place. We only had to adapt these and ourselves to our new reality. And adapt we did, remarkably well, considering the abrupt, unforeseen circumstances and global scale, vividly demonstrating one of our trademark abilities as a species. As the studies, statistics and record profit statements from large corporations such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, all indicating the indisputable benefits of this new arrangement, began to consistently crop up, we had continuous evidence that this experiment had proved widely successful.


So why is it now, when the immediate necessity borne of a global pandemic is fading into the periphery, that so many companies are seeking to return to what has comparatively been proven to be an archaic, less efficient way of organisation? Some, such as Goldman Sachs, claim it is for the prosperity of the corporate culture and therefore, for the benefit of the employees seeking internal opportunities for career growth, through being present, networking and establishing personal connections. However, employees themselves largely tend to have a different perspective on the matter. After two years of newfound freedom and relative autonomy over their schedules and working habits, many knowledge workers have found their own best practices for performing better while maintaining a healthy work-life balance and their personal well-being. In prominent cases, such as Apple, where return-to-office policies have already started to take effect, 76% reported dissatisfaction with the arrangement, after only the first phase of hybrid implementation requiring attendance once a week.


Considering this climate, a company seeking to persuade their employees back to the office needs to offer more than just monetary compensation in return. According to data from the anonymous professional network, Blind, 64% out of the 3,019 US-based respondents working for large corporations would prefer the option to continue permanent remote work to a $30,000 pay rise. Whereas a study conducted by Switzerland-based International Workplace Group has found that, of the knowledge workers questioned, 72% would prefer flexible remote work or hybrid arrangements to a 10% rise in salary. This increased to 84% among the younger workforce between the ages of 18 to 24.


As such, if companies remain resolute in their return-to-office policies, they could look towards offering new incentives and benefits at the workplace, a different kind of office to return to. The open office arrangement as the ubiquitous standard, despite notable shortcomings in employee comfort and well-being, has been in debate for years. Knowledge workers who have grown to appreciate the handcrafted environment of their home offices, need to find comparable or exceeding comforts offered by their companies at the workplace, if they are expected to take on the commute again. This requires a renewed perspective on what office spaces should represent and how they are managed. Whether that means offering a more nuanced variety of smaller spaces for specific tasks and emphasis on extensive social areas, or an altogether unique experience and a daily destination truly worth going to. Whichever the eventual approach that any specific company chooses, it seems increasingly clear that the pre-pandemic offices of yesteryear are not particularly enticing for knowledge workers to return to en masse.

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