Everyone Back to the Office? Not So Fast, Says New Data

In short:

  • Maintaining the ability to have teams work from home — whether your business plans to allow it indefinitely or not — is a smart move in the "work-from-anywhere" era.
  • To make working from home seamless, go all in on cloud business systems.
  • Remote onboarding HR processes then become more relevant.

Of the practices that got businesses through 2020, “work from home” was paramount. For those employees able to function remotely, productivity turned out to be surprisingly high, and morale often flourished as work got done, and done well. Various business leaders have expressed a full range of opinions on whether and how the practice should continue, and CFOs likely have their own thoughts on the matter in light of the tangle of tax implications that come with a geographically dispersed workforce. New data from the NetSuite’s Brainyard Summer/Autumn 2021 Outlook Survey shows just 11% of 500 respondents plan to require all workers back in the office in the coming 12 months.

The vast majority, 81%, plan a hybrid approach.

Workers whose jobs allow are clearly for either a work-from-anywhere policy or a flexible arrangement, with some days in the office and others at home. A strict “back to the cube farm” stance may cost you talent.

Whether you can, and/or intend to, allow remote work once restrictions are fully lifted, it’s smart to at least retain the muscle memory because things happen: Pipes break, hiring accelerates faster than you can add space, blizzards close schools. Coping is easier with remote-work capabilities and protocols in place.

Because employees favor it and productivity seems to benefit, we advocate flexibility. First, talent doesn’t have a postcode. If you find a perfect marketer or data analyst in Cornwall, it’s worth considering a fully remote arrangement. That same worker in London is likely going to cost a lot more, and some highly talented people are longing for more open spaces.

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3 Action Items to Bolster Work-From-Anywhere Capabilities

1. Adopt a cloud-centric policy for software systems.

Assuming a hybrid or fully remote schedule works for your company, several actions taken in 2020 should now be made permanent. Primary among them is providing the tools workers need, preferably delivered from the cloud.

Cloud providers live and die by the reliability and security of their products. Even the largest companies will be challenged to implement in-house versions of collaboration, productivity and core business systems that perform as well and reliably as cloud-based alternatives. Software delivered in an as-a-service model performs no matter where people are working and often costs less to boot.

2. Rethink your real estate.

There are savings to be gained by providing employees with the flexibility they seek. First, losing the commute increases hours worked, surveys show. Flexible schedules also give employers the opportunity to rethink how they use office space, including whether they need as much as they have.

But don’t limit your thinking to simply the number of workstations or square footage. Tuning for collaboration without the need to give everyone a desk can be a game changer. For example, an emerging trend is tracking work output versus hours logged. In a recent survey, only 36% of employees at organizations with standard, 9-to-5, 40-hour workweeks were classified as high performers compared with 55% at companies that offer employees choice in when and where they work. Maybe some people want to come back more or less full time, while others want to drop in on an irregular schedule to sit in on meetings. As with software, when thinking about office design, focus on flexibility.

Interestingly, among our survey respondents, most plan no changes to their office footprints.

3. Reimagine core HR processes.

All that sounds great. But some of you are thinking, “In the real world, there are challenges with remote workers, particularly new ones.” Getting them going on the technology kit is tricky, as is integrating new hires into the company and work team’s culture.

That’s where HR comes in. Remote employee onboarding is its own discipline, all about bringing new employees up to speed so they’re productive, engaged and working toward company goals no matter where that work is done. This begins with the hiring process and continues with orientation, training and ongoing bi-directional feedback.

Rethinking onboarding with a nod toward simplification and coworker mentoring will go a long way.

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