Don’t Be Obsolete When We Return to Normal. Office Workers & Companies Gain from a Semi-Remote Setup.
Save money, time, increase morale, and reduce time off for routine doctor visits. Use this small window of opportunity.
Once the crisis has subsided, the knee-jerk reaction for companies with office employees is to leave things as they are or go back to normal. Both will be costly.
Many people will have proven they can work from home using the internet and videoconferencing software instead of going to a costly office building. Working from home was great in a short-term crisis, but is it good for the company and the employees in the long run?
There’s been a push for years for people to work from home, i.e. remote. It’s usually put forth as an all-or-none proposition.
Why not do both?
Spend part of the workweek in the office and part working from home.
Splitting the workweek provides the benefits of both. One group of about 40% would work in the office on Monday and Tuesday, and at home on Thursday and Friday. A parallel group would do the opposite. Those groups would share desks and office space.
The smaller remaining core would work in the office all five days.
Group #1. Home (M, Tu). Office (W-afternoon, Th, F)
Group #2. Office (M, Tu, W-morning). Home (Th, F)
Core Group. Office (M, Tu, W, Th, F)
Management would have to split the workforce if the volunteers failed to balance it.
The idea is not a panacea that some think it is. Everything in life has its advantages and shortcomings. Here are a few.
Everyone saves money
Doctor appointments. I worked for an insurance company with a 4 1/2 day workweek. That half-day off on Friday made a big quality-of-life difference. I could schedule doctor appointments, haircuts and car maintenance on Friday afternoons. I could go grocery shopping without the Saturday crowds.
The company would have fewer random disruptions from people asking for time off for doctors.
Wednesday, as proposed here, would do the same.
Parking. Whether the company pays for parking in a downtown parking garage or the employee pays, they save parking costs two days a week
Commute. By cutting 4 1/2 hours of driving time each week, the employee would have no commute two days and a light commute in one direction on Wednesday. The company may not care about those costs, but the employee should be less exhausted, thus more productive.
Not only does it save time, but it also cuts toll-road and fuel costs.
Restaurants. The employee cuts lunch expenses, at least twice a week, unless the employee brown bags it.
Maintenance costs. Offices must be cleaned and repaired. Furniture, flooring, and equipment need to be upgraded frequently due to wear-and-tear and obsolescence. Smaller office, less costs.
For some, the office and commute may be their entire social interaction for the day, especially if they live alone. That includes talking at the water-cooler, meetings, work discussions, and lunches. The company may not care, but employee morale and company culture are important.
Meetings. With meeting software, like Zoom and others, personal meetings are easy over the internet. That works fine for brief discussions and small meetings. A departmental or full-office meeting may not work as well.
At times, discussing and pointing to something larger than a computer screen is better in person. It’s easier to watch body language when in the same room. You may only see the face in an internet meeting.
Supervision. Most people don’t need close supervision. However, it may be necessary for new employees or if the employee needs help doing their job and deciding priorities. Close supervision turns into a minus if the company has a Dilbert manager.
Isolation. The downside of working from home all of the time is a feeling of isolation. The employee may not feel like a member of the company. That may be ok for a short time, but eventually may take its toll.
A person could go for weeks or months and never see their managers or coworkers in person.
Working in the office with half of the staff for part of the week would alleviate that problem. The brief overlap on Wednesday could cover all-company meetings.
The company still needs people in the office just to receive deliveries and mail. There are also times when it’s better to meet customers and other people in the company’s office instead of their ground. So, maintaining an office is still important.
A core group’s mission is to keep the office functioning and the staff coordinated. The size could vary based on the type of business. It would also give a small number of employees the option of spending all 5 days in the office.
Self-discipline stress. Home distractions stress some people more than the commute to work. They must drag themselves from home requirements to the computer. They don’t think about them if at work.
Management will have to take that into account when they ask for volunteers for the groups.
Productivity. Productivity may decline somewhat due to lack of communication, equipment and focused employees. Productivity may be hard to measure for a while in the new structure. It will take time to work out procedures.
A small productivity decline, even if it requires hiring additional personnel, should cost much less than the cost of maintaining so much office space.
Security issues. These may not be much different than they were during the shutdown. Still, they do exist, especially if the employees are using their own equipment.
They might force long-term changes, depending on the type of industry.
Home office. If the worker is actually an employee and not a contractor, the company would need to provide equipment and supplies. That could be handled directly by a stipend, or through an expense account through a local retailer.
They would provide the same equipment and supplies if the employee was in the office fulltime.
Other organizational structures
This setup could be done for the entire company, one office location, or one department. However, doing it for one group and not others may cause resentment later.
The shorter commute time would reduce pollutants from cars. Satellite pictures taken during the lockdown showed a dramatic change in the environment when there were practically no vehicles on the road. Just cutting part of the daily commute community would help the environment.
Before the crisis, thousands of people flocked to soaring skyscrapers, even though remote work technology has been available for years. A few companies had taken advantage of it, but most didn’t. Even video conferencing wasn’t in that much use.
Well, science fiction has become reality and today’s apps, like Zoom, work far better than the communication screens in the Star Trek TV series.
The current crisis and shutdown provide a great opportunity to try a new office structure. There’s a narrow time window while the work-volume is lower than normal.
Companies should take advantage of it.