The Pendulum of Workplace Models: Shifting from Permanent to Hot Positions and Back Again In the ever-evolving landscape of workspace management, companies have experienced a notable shift in their…
The key to successful organizational conduct in challenging times: adapting to changing needs and smart use of management software
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented global uncertainty it has unleashed the employment sector is experiencing a jolt of a historical scale, which includes the sudden shift to widespread remote work, the attempts to return employees into the office setting, and the surge of employee resignations. Advanced software solutions, such as those offered by “Point of Contact Systems (P.O.C.)” became a crucial aid for organizational management amid the ongoing crisis, and these platforms will continue to serve as a key tool in coping with future challenges of the employment sector. In order to appreciate the current state of affairs, as well as to forecast the likely future trends, it is vital to recognize the underlying psychological changes causing the events in the headlines.
From a commuting routine to work in uncertainty
Up until two years ago, Western world employees in general and Israeli employees, in particular, were accustomed to a single main work format: daily commuting to the workplace. This was the way hired labor had been structured for the last century. Thus, millions of workers had an established routine that dictated their life’s rhythm and divided their days into time spent at home, a (rather sizable) interval of traveling to and from work, and work time. The violent spread of the new coronavirus in early 2020 abruptly overturned the familiar reality. As the virus surged in one country after another, general uncertainty ensued. Physical distancing measures, lockdowns, and even curfews were implemented to reduce contagion. We all remember how organizations globally were shut for direct, face-to-face activities. Giant companies and small businesses alike had to shift to remote working. Employees were forced to adapt to an unfamiliar routine consisting of virtual meeting spaces and lengthy teleconferences. Initially, working from home satisfied many employees: they were spared from traffic, spent more time together with their children and close family, and, obviously, limited their risk of contracting COVID-19, especially while no treatments or vaccines were available. Certain companies even quickly decided to give up their offices, in some cases – for good.
But soon enough many employees discovered that remote work has significant downsides. Firstly, communication with colleagues was all but reduced to prescheduled ZOOM calls, which from the onset were clearly a poor substitute for face-to-face meetings at the office. Teleconferencing is susceptible to poor connection quality, and often results in cognitive overload due to prolonged time in front of screens. Moreover, the lack of conventional social norms for the new working environment introduced additional stress.
Experts at the “Harvard Business Review” warned that spontaneous interaction between colleagues has disappeared: there was no longer a place for random or informal encounters, and one could not share new ideas with teammates during a coffee break or pop into the office across the corridor to consult a coworker. Employees’ social connections suffered, and the organization’s overall performance was hampered. The “Harvard Business Review” pundits indicate that such interactions are critical to any organization’s social capital: they stimulate creative ideas, facilitate consulting with expert colleagues, allow for mutual intellectual and emotional support among coworkers, and even lower absenteeism and employee turnover.
Furthermore, frequently the home space is not adapted for work, either because it lacks a dedicated workstation or due to numerous distractions; in addition to that, many found personal time management during work from home to be an unexpected challenge. They had to separate their professional tasks from activities unrelated to work – all in the same place, with no physical boundaries between their “office” and their home. This led some remote employees to feel that work was encroaching on their private life. Terms such as “remote work burnout” and “ZOOM fatigue” appeared to describe the resulting reality.
On the other hand, full-time remote work has been challenging for employers too: as early as the summer of 2020 the American analytics giant Gallup cautioned that remote work may endanger an organization’s culture and human assets, and even raise employee turnover by up to 24 percent. This is due to remote workers’ greater likelihood to feel detached from their organization’s goals and values, and because workers who experience such disconnection are naturally less involved and less satisfied. Gallup’s report also mentioned that remote work reduces employees’ opportunities to develop meaningful relationships at their organization and warned that remote work jeopardizes employees’ feeling that their contribution is valued and recognized.
Besides the disruption of employee involvement and sense of belonging, remote work may harm teamwork: “Time” magazine reported research that links creative teamwork with the ability of teammates to engage in a “team flow” – to concentrate as a group on the solution of a specific problem. Teammates achieve creative cooperation more easily by working face-to-face, rather than teleconferencing. Remote work has been linked to several other negative outcomes:
- Decreased efficiency – immediately following the transition to remote work, employees feared losing their position, and thus were eager to prove they remain active and diligent even while at home. Consequently, a short-term increase of productivity was registered, however this effect often wore off due to stress and burnout.
- Prolonged working hours – as expected, the lack of physical separation between work and home makes it harder for some remote employees to end their workday, effectively losing the benefit of not having to commute.
- Impaired performance in tasks that require high skill, demand increased concentration or are carried out under time pressure – research suggests tasks demanding complex thinking are performed worse when done virtually (in conditions similar to work from home), compared to the performance achieved when they are carried out in a physical setting.
As infection rate declines alternated with repeated outbreaks, it gradually became evident that the pandemic is likely to be a long-term, dynamic occurrence, which necessitates creative adjustments in the employment sphere. Adopting a hybrid work model to address the shortcomings of extended work from home, organizations declared a partial return to the office: on some days employees were required to be present in the office, and the other days they worked remotely. The idea was to preserve both the flexibility of remote work and the efficient and creative collaboration of in-person interaction. The hybrid office space, which was used simultaneously only by a fraction of an organization’s total workforce, allowed for the reduction of permanent desks, in an attempt to keep the office premises more cost-effective. Desks no longer associated with a specific employee were shared – operated in a “hot desks” mode: when workers came to the office, they booked themselves a desk. Several forms of the hybrid office were devised: some offices were merely reorganized and divided into “hot desks” and permanent personal workstations. Some allocated employees to “capsules” which alternately came to the office and worked from home. One organization even divided its entire workforce into groups of equal size, which worked at the office in shifts, so that each shift included staff from every department, while the rest collaborated remotely.
Office administrators and IT staff oversaw the transition to remote work and the efforts to implement hybrid work models, playing a key role in managing the crisis. This was a defining experience for them, as they were required to provide creative solutions to support the organization’s workforce and to maintain uninterrupted and stable operations, all while coping with technical and planning challenges, such as preserving information security and managing the inevitable surge in data traffic. This period saw a marked uptake of advanced office management solutions such as those offered by “P.O.C.” whose systems facilitate workstation and seating allocation on the premises and the management of commercial space.
From work in uncertainty to a reevaluation of personal and organizational priorities
The most stable tendency of the employment sector from 2020 up until now has been instability: the pandemic’s spurts and lulls caused alternating tightening and easing of restrictions on office attendance. Different parts of the world were affected at different times and to varying degrees. An example of policy variability under changeable conditions is Google’s policy during the last two years. The company wanted to allow a limited number of employees to return to the office as early as July 2020, provided the local conditions permitted so. Later in the summer of 2020, the company reversed course and said that its employees may continue working from home until July 2021. Another policy change took place at the end of 2020 when Google pushed the return to office date back to September 2021, declaring that employees will be expected to return to a hybrid model, attending the office up to three days a week. The return to office was again postponed in August 2021, when Google’s CEO stated that until January 10th 2022 Google employees may choose between hybrid work at the office or full-time remote work. After that date, employees were supposed to return to the offices, with a prior notice a month before the actual day of return. It is worth noting that in his statement Google’s CEO revealed that tens of thousands of employees had already voluntarily returned to their offices. Finally, in December 2021 it was reported that Google has indeed opened the majority of its offices for employees who wanted to attend them, however, following the rapid spread of the “Omicron” variant, the company gave up on its intention to realize the hybrid work model from January 2022, while not setting any future dates for returning to the office until further reevaluation in the course of 2022.
Besides all of the above-mentioned difficulties, companies around the world are facing formidable challenges in the field of human resources: in 2021 millions of people (4.5 million in one month in the United States alone) quit their jobs for various reasons, one of which is a loss of interest; directors and HR teams are struggling to keep their existing workforce, while it has become significantly tougher to recruit and train new employees. Administrators, infrastructure and IT personnel are not in position to address this crisis. Employers’ current mission calls for sophisticated solutions, demanding more than technical adjustment to office seating plans or even increases in wages. We are witnessing a period of employees deeply reevaluating their priorities, and increasingly searching for meaningful roles, in which they can develop personally. To address these needs, employers and recruiters should concentrate on employees’ desires and wellbeing.
Indeed, a publication by the World Economic Forum indicates that managing the human resources crisis requires employers to directly address employees’ personal needs: managers need to find ways of providing their workers with a sense of belonging to the organization, as well as psychological and emotional well-being. They must take into consideration that numerous employees are suffering from considerable burnout and have been dealing with general uncertainty for an extended period of time (specifically concerning personal health and their family members’ wellbeing). Additionally, to demonstrate to the employees that their workplace appreciates and values them, employers must pay close attention to their employees’ needs of skills development, and accordingly, offer relevant opportunities of upskilling and professional growth.
With that in mind, what is the optimal work mode for the near term?
As we have seen, remote work allows for unprecedented flexibility, but it has its drawbacks, and, overall, it is not sustainable for extended periods of time. On the other hand, employees’ expectations have changed, and it is highly unlikely that they will completely give up on the possibility to occasionally work from home. The results of the international Work Trend Index survey are a meaningful indication of the employees’ desires. In 2021, more than 30,000 employees participated, answering questions regarding their satisfaction and their expectations from the workplace. Considering the unique qualities of remote work on the one hand and of traditional work at the office, it is not surprising that most respondents expressed a desire to combine both: 73% of them said that in the future they would like to have the option to work remotely, and yet 67% of the respondents expressed a desire to work face-to-face more after the pandemic subsides.
A report by Microsoft also indicates that work in flexible, hybrid offices is expected to remain the norm in many companies. Microsoft’s experts agree regarding employees’ mental change, saying that the forced transition to work from home was more than a mere change of the place and the form of work – it made them rethink their attitude towards the workplace, and contemplate what motivates them to work. We can conclude that that after experiencing years of tiring commuting on the one hand, and after getting a first-hand understanding of the limitations of working solely from home, most employees recognize the hybrid model as the optimal framework, combining the efficiency and motivation of work at the office while allowing greater flexibility than was offered before the pandemic.
We at “P.O.C. Systems” clearly see that the rumors of the office’s death were greatly exaggerated, and untimely: the demand for our seating allocation software remains stable, and the pattern in which customers use it reveals the acceptance of the idea that organization streamlining cannot be done at the expense of employees’ desires. We see a noticeable trend of return to attendance of the physical office, but with a substantial change of the hybrid model: the ratio of the “hot desks” at an organization is stabilizing at 20% of the total seating. The remainder of the desks remain permanent, allocated to a single employee, even during days of work from home.
The root cause for this is the already mentioned transition from policymaking based on considerations of pure streamlining and economy to policymaking that takes workers’ wellbeing into account. The human capital, the employees’ array of talents and skills are an organization’s most valuable asset, and keeping experienced employees is a much higher priority compared to cost-saving through office downsizing. For that reason, we see that the trend of reverting to a larger proportion of permanent workstations is consistent across the various sectors of employment. Managers and HR teams recognize that most people at their organization do want to be back at the offices, at least for some part of the workweek. They also recognize people’s need of permanency: workers want to have a permanent “home” to return to every time they attend the office, a personal workstation which they can organize and design according to their preferences and requirements, as it was before the pandemic started. An additional recognizable trend is the grouping of the “hot desks” into physical office “areas” based on existing organic teams and departments – which also contributes to the permanency of employees’ social environment. Thus, it is likely that the hybrid office in its current form will experience only a modest decrease of space.
A third trend which we, at “P.O.C.”, recognize through our systems is the increased use of our space management software: this sophisticated tool offers an intuitive and efficient interface that allows an organization to control all of its real estate, clearly concentrating all the information regarding each part of the property (position, dimensions, designation etc.) along with data on its current uses. In this way, management can conveniently track the occupancy of rented properties, identify at a glance which of the available properties suit their customers best, and make appropriate choices concerning the policy, marketing and advertising. The rising popularity of this system is additional evidence of the return to physical offices, indicating that companies are interested in having physical premises for various uses.
In conclusion, by 2022 it is clear that the way we work has changed considerably, but the more substantial transformation is the employees’ and employers’ internal change – the former’s desire to work on a flexible schedule, the appreciation of the value of the social encounters at the workplace – as well as the latter’s understanding that it is vital to provide the employees with a sense of stability and of meaningful engagement with the company. The office remains an irreplaceable, essential ground for cooperative work, and yet it is expected to allow for remote work. It is essential to remember that, during these times, employers themselves acquire valuable skills of managing extreme scenarios, skills that will serve them in the future as well. Even after the pandemic ends, in the face of any upcoming challenges that the business and employment sectors may encounter, employers and recruiting agents will have a set of dependable tools to rely upon, such as P.O.C. Systems’ office management systems. These allow enterprises of any type and scale to retain their organizational flexibility, to adapt to changing conditions in real time, and to wholly address the actual needs of both the leaders and the employees at the same time.
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