Life in 2020 was unpredictable. And in the years before that, corporations were reaching a breaking point with out-of-practice, outdated work methods1. The absolutes that may have worked in the past are not working for us today. Which begs the question: What the hell does that mean for 2021’s in-office life? Because we’re at a crossroads. As we try to put the pieces back together to figure out our new framework, we have to go back to figure out what wasn’t fitting.
In today's world, technology continues to evolve, the cost of living keeps increasing, two-income households are the majority, and the corporate culture has shifted.
So let’s break it down.
Companies that are not investing in technology and IT are working harder, not smarter—hindering their excellence. I recall working for a company that chose not to upgrade from Quark to InDesign (despite my incredibly compelling argument) only because they didn’t want to train anyone on a new program. Instead, we continued to work in a version of Quark that crashed repeatedly, didn’t have IT support, and took hours for files to export, rendering me unable to use my computer. We have so many options readily available to us to make our jobs more efficient, more creative, and more skillful; the conversation about whether we should work remotely seems passe, but still isn’t.
Remote, In-Person or Partial
You only need four devices to be able to work remotely (and sometimes just two); phone, computer, printer, and scanner, making it easier to turn your home into your office. But, devices aren’t the only factors that make work possible.
Going to an office outside your home allows for space differentiation, human connection, and group collaborations; sometimes, nothing beats an old-fashioned, whiteboard idea sesh.
So what does this mean? It means that there is more than one way to look at this issue, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Have real conversations with upper management and entry-level folks alike instead of making a gavel declaration for being in-office only. If you consider David Cancel’s recent Linkedin post, you’ll find an option we can get behind. He’s officially declared his company a digital-first enterprise, meaning their office will continue to work remotely while reconfiguring offices to be “conversation spaces'' for collaborations and gatherings when it's safe to do so.
A recent study showed that “most knowledge workers are happier working remotely than they were in the office.” and one Forbes study found a
2020 proved in-office isn’t 100% necessary, and the tools for companies to be remote are there and evolving at warp speed. When the decision to go back to in-office arises, consider alternative solutions, perhaps even including David Cancel’s digital-first option, if possible.
Cost of Living Increase
Shall I stay or shall I go? That’s the question on many minds. The pros and cons list has always been there; the question isn’t new, but the context is. If we take the route of working remotely or even partially remotely, there’s not as much pressure to stay in the city. Even if the city opens up again post-vaccine, do those who have left even want to return to the pulse? We’ve taken a massive swig of pandemic life, and the psychological effects of This Can Happen Again Syndrome may last longer than we expect.
It’s not a simple, “We’ve left the big city to get more bang for our buck.” The potential to leave the city for more space, less noise, and fewer expenses are now in jeopardy. Some companies are not compensating for at-home costs that would be covered in an office. So now, those expenses are on us on top of that new mortgage we just signed (even if it’s less than the one-bedroom downtown). Our insurance, heating/AC, WIFI, desk, childcare, and even pens and pencils, may all be at risk.2
This is where we are. The gloves are off, which means that you need to speak with your company or clients to see what they are leaning toward before deciding to leave. The last thing you want to do is be even more caught off guard than we already are. Leaving the city makes sense if your monthly costs are significantly reduced and don’t put you in a potentially worse predicament with fewer options.
Two-Income Households Are the Majority, Not the Minority
If you ask the baby boomer generation, they’d inform you that today’s work, life, family landscape is a far contrast from the one they grew up in. Today, we have inflated tuition costs hindering most household incomes (currently, we have $1.57 trillion in student loan debt in the United States), inflated housing costs, inflated insurance payments, inflated, well, everything.
Lack of earning increases to keep up with inflation has created a divide.3 It becomes less about both parties wanting careers and more about needing jobs to keep up with costs. Women are statistically paid less than men who have the same job titles, yet are still depended upon to be the primary parent.4 Taking it a step further, 2.2 million women had to leave the labor force between February and October.
It’s the baby boomer generation all over again, but this time with inflation.
The only way out is for companies to recognize the shift that has taken place by working on providing more sympathy and flexible schedules. A we’re-all-in-this together approach. Previous studies have found that flexible schedules have been proven to produce:
- Increased productivity
- A sense of belonging
- Fewer sick days used for running menial errands
- Happier employees
Shifting Corporate Culture
From pay gaps to non-diversified teams to poor work conditions, companies are being called out left and right. Creating a work environment that includes issues like micromanagement, monocultures, gender gaps, and a lack of team building activities is perpetuating a toxic culture.
Micromanagement has been shown to reduce creativity, productivity and individuality. And yet, managers are rarely held accountable for it. They are often considered efficient, even though micromanaging takes away from their list of priorities, and trust within the team slowly begins to diminish.
Harnessing the ability to create a progressive climate means taking the time to hire the right individuals to get you there, to invest in the company’s future. Diversifying your team can help you gain different ideas, processes, perspectives, skill sets and personalities that can propel your company even further.
With blurred lines surrounding work/life balance, the need to engage your employees in meaningful ways goes beyond appreciation—it becomes a necessity.5
This may mean more work for managers and HR, but the end result can produce a non-toxic environment inside and outside the office. Your employees’ mental health during this transition should be accounted for. Whether they’ve been working remotely prior to 2020 or this is all new to them, this last year and the new year are all uncharted.
Make this hybrid year work for you. Enlist new strategies, methods, processes and hires to progress past your previous self. Look at your employees as not just worker bees, but as part of the organization.
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