Is Everyone Working From Home Really The Future?
Ezra's CEO, Nick Goldberg, discusses the change in perception of working from home, from the perspective of both employees and wider organizations.
Just over a year ago, I was sitting around a table with my leadership team in our London offices to discuss a pretty important HR issue: how often we should let our people work from home?
It was a sensitive question for Ezra given that we are anchored by an app that allows people to get top-level coaching anytime, anywhere through their mobile devices. And, like a lot of tech-based companies, our employees were very interested in the flexibility of work-from-home (WFH) opportunities.
That presented us with a dilemma: when a company’s whole value proposition is based on providing people with valuable service through a virtual solution, in the form of digital leadership coaching, how prickly should we be about demanding that our people come into a physical office?
Well, that was then. After more than a year of lockdown and masks and social distancing, that conversation seems almost comical.
With vaccines providing us with a possible end to social and economic restrictions in the near future, the conversation has pivoted 180-degrees. Suddenly, we’re no longer worried about telling our people when they can work from home; now, we’re more concerned with trying to make sure we know exactly when it’s necessary and appropriate to bring people into the office.
Our team is a lot more torn on the issue than they once were. Pre-pandemic, the ability to work from home was viewed by many as the next level of employee benefits. A vote of confidence from your employer that you could be trusted to deliver while working away from the office.
Increasingly, however, we’re all learning that the reality of working from home didn’t quite meet up with our fantasies. Research data on worker attitudes towards WFH shows an evolution in our thinking on this subject.
Few companies have probed the psyche of workers on the WFH trend as much as the Gallup organization. In 2019, Gallup found that about 80 percent of American workers wanted a WFH option at least some of the time; more than half of respondents said they would change jobs if it meant being able to work away from the office.
Support for WFH is still very strong, although it’s waning. In December 2020, updated Gallup results showed that two-thirds of workers who had been given the opportunity to work from home would like to continue to do so some of the time; one-third wanted to work in an office setting again once it was safe.
More importantly, even those who want to work from home still overwhelmingly want the option to work from the office some of the time. Surveys taken last fall, when the reality of COVID-19 vaccines was just starting to galvanize in everyone’s mind, showed that a strong majority of workers (as much as three-quarters of respondents) from all over the world wanted a hybrid working arrangement: working at home for the most part with the option of coming into an office when it was necessary or desirable.
That hybrid model presents a challenge to any employer. A well-appointed head office used to be pro forma for any organization that wanted to be taken seriously in their industry. You needed the big logo on the wall, the glass walls and doors, and the hum that can only come from a mass grouping of employees collaborating and creating, together.
Now, however, we’re all re-thinking whether we need head offices. And for those of us who decide we still want a physical office – to give employees the opportunity for the face-to-face collaboration that is so important in tech industries – we are facing some tough decisions. How big should a future head office be and if we downsize, will we have to ration opportunities to work in that environment?
Hiring practices may also have to change. Many companies similar to Ezra have tried to achieve a balance between hiring good people wherever they may live and hiring to create a critical mass of employees in a hub city. Now, we’re all going to have to re-think our strategies and make some very deliberate decisions about who to hire and where.
Although I see a lot of value in the hybrid approach, I still believe the trend will continue to push us all towards a more virtual working world.
Go back 18 months ago, when Ezra was in its earliest days, and there was still some anxiety among potential clients about whether you could replicate an intimate, one-to-one interaction – a key to good coaching – in a virtual coaching app. The pandemic has largely eliminated most of those concerns.
Almost everyone is familiar and comfortable with video conferencing solutions. Email communication and traditional phone calls are on a downward trend. When you can connect via Teams or Zoom, why would you just call someone?
Even in our private lives, we’ve learned to rely increasingly on things like Facetime and Google Duo to maintain close relationships with friends and family. When I need to talk to my father, we Facetime – no more plain phone calls. The future may still be uncertain, but we certainly know that it will include more live video connections.
As virtual technology gets better, and the user experience evolves and matures, it will change the way we think about work, particularly when we work and where.
Increasingly, it seems the future will mean working in an office if necessary, but not necessarily all the time.