Some might see it as clutching at straws or reaching for a silver lining, but many people see positives emerging from our collective experience with Covid-19.
The pandemic has changed how we think about work and the modern office. And as events have played out over the course of the past several months, trends and opinions have changed as well.
The imposition of stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures led to businesses’ closure and the loss of millions of jobs. Yet, many people who would otherwise have been laid off could continue working due to technology that enabled remote work.
Initially, this was heralded as the dawn of the remote working age. But as time passed, remote teams discovered many challenges to such arrangements. Since then, more people have expressed a preference to return to the office at some point.
This might be a matter of individual preference for employees, but it could call for serious action for employers. They may have to draw up new commercial leases or restructure their organization. How might things shape up in the future regarding workplace arrangements?
The hub-and-spoke model
While remote work has been around for many years, it never received mainstream acceptance until the pandemic. Consequently, we’ve all been learning on the fly since early 2020.
One early solution proposed to the pains of remote working was the use of co-working spaces. As the threat of Covid-19 grew and was taken more seriously, the appeal of that option diminished.
Hybrid offices were tossed into the mix. Employees could report for work two or three days a week while working from home the rest of the time. Yet this didn’t address the difficulty of working asynchronously or collaborating with others through online communication channels.
Hub-and-spoke models have emerged lately as one of the contenders for a solution to the office conundrum. These have existed before the pandemic but can be adapted to suit the needs of today’s workers.
With a central hub extended into disparate spokes, an organization can maintain its flexibility. Health and safety measures are easier to enforce with small teams reporting to a controlled environment. People get to work at a location that’s proximal to them, whether that’s in the big city, a suburb, or even in another state or country.
An empowerment issue
The hub-and-spoke model promises to address many issues, but is it realistic?
Not every organization is capable of making this adjustment without significant restructuring. Many would rather continue with imperfect remote working arrangements, especially when they tap a global talent pool and save on costs.
It also brings up a significant concern that’s been encountered by any company that outsources tasks. People feel less empowered when they operate at a distance from a central office.
When you call a company’s customer service located in another country, they may take note of your concerns. But they don’t act on it as effectively as an in-house team equipped with NPS feedback software and direct access to production or R&D members.
Empowerment issues are inherent to a hub-and-spoke model because the central authority has too much power and influence in decision-making. There is a loss of overall synergy and dissipation of company culture in the spoke offices.
Exploring multiple options
The truth is that there is no single perfect solution to what people need from the office of the future.
Our collective experience with remote work may have been mixed, but it has shown countless employees the potential of alternate arrangements.
Some people might want to embrace a return in full to the traditional office environment as the pandemic subsides. Others may feel perfectly suited to full-time remote working. Many will fall somewhere in between. And those preferences will also change over time.
Younger employees are more likely to feel the need to socialize, learn from their colleagues, and build up their professional networks. Those with more experience and accomplishments under their belt will appreciate the control that remote work gives. Everyone may vacillate from their position on occasion, wishing to get together or work from home.
Perhaps employers must accept the need to cede control and give their employees options by offering multiple ways of working. Otherwise, they risk losing out on acquiring the best talent as things start returning to normal. Don’t overhaul your organization, but just as with remote work, you can slowly integrate these different arrangements on a trial basis and expand them over time.