NeuGroup members face a future where some workers may never return to office buildings.
NeuGroup members have learned to adapt to working from home (WFH) during the pandemic. Some like it, some don’t. But nine months into Covid, many remain uncertain about what role actual, old-school offices will play moving forward. Several discussed their thinking at a recent meeting of the Assistant Treasurers’ Leadership Group.
- Two members work for companies that have announced plans to close all office buildings, although many details, including existing leases, need to be resolved.
- Some corporates are following Google’s lead: The tech company plans to return to its offices in July 2021.
- Microsoft last month announced plans for a “flexible workplace” that includes allowing some employees to work from home permanently.
- Though some members are embracing the possibilities of an office-free future, others are skeptical, voicing concerns about the sustainability and side effects of this approach.
WFA: work from anywhere. The transition to permanently working from home is forcing some companies to take a hard look at themselves and make tough choices.
- “We are going through a little bit of an identity crisis right now as a company,” one member said. “We’re experiencing a bit of a culture shift.”
- As part of the shift, the member’s company is closing its headquarters in an area with a high cost of living, encouraging employees to find residence in lower-cost areas.
- “We are incentivizing people to move out of high-cost locations and take a salary adjustment,” she said. “All future hires will be in low-cost areas.”
- Because other corporates have offered employees a hybrid WFH/office arrangement, the member’s company had to be “very explicit that there is not going to be an option to go in.”
It’s about culture. A transition to working from home on a permanent basis also widely broadens the field of candidates to hire, which one member sees as a positive opportunity to advance inclusion.
- The member whose company will only be hiring in low-cost areas said this provides it with the opportunity to be much more thoughtful when it comes to what she described as “equity.”
- “I don’t think it’s any secret that women have really been struggling in this Covid economy,” she said. “We can now be really conscientious about how bias can creep into any corporate environment. It’s about culture.”
- Though this is a positive for employees, the member said there can be drawbacks. “People are a lot less loyal to their company, and more willing to leave,” she said. “When they don’t have to be there every day, they will leave if they’re not compensated the way they want to be.”
- Another member sees the benefits this can bring an employer who already seeks candidates from across the country: “If you’re working virtually, you don’t have to cover moving costs.”
Diverging opinions. Others at the meeting said they did not see a worthwhile tradeoff, placing a high premium on the bond built by in-person interaction.
- “What about the learning that’s done by osmosis—mentorship, learning opportunities?” one member asked. “I just couldn’t imagine never being in an environment with my colleagues. I think it’s a very quick jump, based on very specific circumstances, that hopefully will not exist forever.”
- Another member said not all employees are thrilled about no offices. “There’s a split between people who are older and have already established relationships outside of work versus those who are young and rely on work for socialization.”
- One member acknowledged that there are no easy answers to whether completely virtual offices offer a real advantage for companies. “I think that’s a question that’s not going to be answered right away. There’s certainly a social aspect of being together in an office that was always big when you were young.”