In 2011, we were coming out of the Great Recession and business had begun to pick up, but revenue (and profitability) weren’t yet back to pre-2008 numbers.
But I was still paying for pre-pandemic office space…and not paying myself.
It’s kind of easy to look at your highest expense (outside of payroll) and think, “Gosh, I could stop paying this rent and actually pay myself to come to work.”
(It wasn’t, of course, that easy. It took months of planning—and making sure we had access to the technology we needed to make it work. We had far longer than most business leaders had last year to make the shift.)
In the beginning, it was just a 12-month test. We wanted to see if we could continue to build and conquer the way we had without being in the same building together.
During that year, we began to hire people who were best suited for the job—no matter where they were in the world.
Suddenly, we had a completely distributed team across North and Latin America and Europe…and no one who was still in Chicago wanted to go back to an office—myself included.
Fast forward to March of 2020.
The Remote Work Debates
I very vividly remember walking home from my very last in-person SoulCycle class the Sunday before Chicago shut down and I thought, “What’s the big deal? You already work from home. Nothing much will change there.”
(Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and it ended up being a VERY big deal. But we did have the advantage of already being set up that way.)
Now I’m watching the debates everyone is having about staying remote, doing some sort of hybrid, or asking people to go back to the office full-time.
A friend of mine, who works for a global consumer packaged goods company, received an email earlier this week stating that they all had to be back in the office on June 15. No exceptions.
(The CEO, by the way, gave them only eight days’ notice. If I worked there, I’d be out of luck, seeing as childcare and summer camps are still so erratic.)
Now there are grumblings of people leaving.
Even my friend is considering quitting because she’s gotten very used to leading her team from her home office and doesn’t see the need for any of them to tack on two hours (or more) of commute time every day.
I was joking with her that that’s one way to be rid of half of your labor in less than one week!
Pros and Cons to Remote Work
Sure, there are pros and cons to every option, but it’s hard for me to understand why any organization that has “knowledge workers” would require them back in the office full-time.
Some companies have promised greater flexibility—those that understand you don’t have to actually see people doing their jobs to know the work is getting done. And others have lamented the perils of remote work, saying it diminishes collaboration and company culture.
In a recent Bloomberg article, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., was quoted as saying, “Remote work doesn’t work for young people or those who want to hustle.”
Give me a break. You don’t need to have your butt in a seat in an office to hustle. Don’t get me started on that one.
I do agree it diminishes collaboration, to some extent, but not that it does the same to company culture. It certainly depends on the company and the culture, but I’ve seen it improve culture greatly in many organizations.
It does also diminish the serendipitous conversations that happen in the hallways or while you’re waiting for your lunch to warm up in the microwave. You also can’t drop by someone’s office to see if they want to walk to Starbucks with you.
And, while those things can’t be totally replaced, they can be recreated, in a sense.
Yesterday, I had a call with the leadership team of a client and, after it ended, I immediately called the internal communications team on a four-way call and we had a quick download.
Sure, it requires an extra step to do that, but it works—and it’s less disruptive and more time-efficient.
We also have a cadre of young professionals who very much like the collaboration of working together and have recreated that by opening a Zoom room every morning and keeping it open all day.
People drop in and out all day, depending on their meetings and other things they have to accomplish.
Working like that would drive me crazy, but they LOVE it. And I’ve been known to drop in unexpectedly, just like I would if I were walking by their cubicles in the office.
Times…They Are A’Changin’
If the past year has proven anything, it’s that the majority of our work can be done from anywhere, without lengthy commutes, getting up at the crack of dawn to accomplish everything, and doing laundry and dishes at 8 p.m.
We’ve all gotten used to throwing in a load of laundry or vacuuming the floor or going for a walk during the day–in the time that used to be taken up with unnecessary meetings or constant interruptions.
It’s even changed for me. I used to get up at 4:45 a.m. to be able to get it all in. I no longer need to do that.
People who used to live near to work have moved to be closer to family or to live where they’ve always wanted to live. Those who lived in urban centers because of work have been able to move out further, to the suburbs or to farmland (my dream).
We work from bed (hopefully not while on Zoom calls, though), at the kitchen table, from the couch, outside on the front porch or patio, and/or in a home office.
I do some of my very best writing (this article included) from the front porch of our home while the dog and the small child play in the yard.
No amount of money would convince me to give any of that up and commute to an office every day.
And I’m not alone.
Less than 30% of U.S. office workers are back at their buildings, according to the Kastle Systems Back to Work Barometer.
And, according to a poll by Morning Consult, 39% of Americans would consider quitting their jobs if their employers aren’t flexible about remote work. The number jumps to 49% among Millennials and Gen Z.
In an informal poll, the Content Marketing Institute Slack community had a similar conversation earlier this week.
The vast majority said, “Mandated in-office 9-5? Nope. No. Not happening. No, thanks.”
Times…they are a’changin’.
It seems the, uh, older leaders are the ones holding on to the way things were pre-pandemic. You’ll remove them from their corner offices when they’re dead.
But as the younger generations continue to climb the ladder, start their own businesses, and take leadership roles, the workplace will continue to be redefined.
I, for one, can’t wait to see where we are a decade from now!