Having worked remotely for more than a year, many professional and administrative workers aren't eager to return to their offices full time. Those who do come back are likely to find that office designs and routines have changed as businesses rethink the purpose and value of centralized work.
Embracing a New Normal
A number of the nation's biggest firms have announced that post-pandemic they'll combine workdays at the office and at home.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon, for instance, wrote in an April 7 letter to shareholders, "for every 100 employees, we may need seats for only 60 on average. This will significantly reduce our need for real estate." He added, "We will quickly move to a more 'open seating' arrangement, in which digital tools will help manage seating arrangements."
On March 24, Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser told staffers that the pandemic "has opened doors to new ways of working" and that "the majority of roles globally will be designated as hybrid. These colleagues will work in the office at least three days per week and from home up to two days per week. This is not just a scheduling exercise; we will be thoughtful about when we ask colleagues to be in the office together."
Microsoft, which has begun letting employees return to its Redmond, Wash., headquarters, likewise said that going forward it will embrace a greater mix of onsite and remote office work.
"We know that hybrid work requires a new operating model and strategy that encompasses flexible work policy," Kurt DelBene, Microsoft executive vice president, said in a March 22 blog post. "The modern workplace requires companies to meet new employee expectations [and] connect a more distributed workforce" using innovative technology, he noted.
"Though we don't know how far off a new normal is," DelBene added, "we are adapting to a new way of working with an expanded understanding of flexibility. We know there are thousands of ways of working—in the last year our employees have shown what is possible."
Timing Office Reopenings
As COVID-19 vaccines become widely available, office reopenings become more likely. "Employers are working to get back to normal operations, which most expect by the third quarter of 2021," according to Michael Thompson, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, a nonprofit network of business coalitions focused on improving health care value.
The alliance's March report, Pulse of the Purchaser 2021-2023, based on a survey of 151 U.S. organizations of all sizes, showed that over half anticipate a more stabilized business environment: 25 percent by the second quarter of 2021 and 27 percent by the third quarter.
Throughout 2021, however, 83 percent of employers will continue to allow people to work from home.
Similarly, HR consultancy Mercer reported in March based on its U.S. Coronavirus Business Impact Surveys with responses from more than 700 U.S. employers:
- 61 percent of employers hope to have half or more of their workforce back to the worksite by the end of the third quarter of 2021.
- 87 percent say they will embrace greater flexibility post-pandemic, with most planning a hybrid onsite/remote-work model.
That's in line with a recent forecast by The Conference Board, an independent business membership and research association, which said "a hybrid model is likely to emerge in which some workers do not need to be at the office at all, some come in infrequently, and others work primarily at the office."