A year into the pandemic, office buildings remain one of the last parts of pre-Covid-19 life to reopen. As of April 7, an average of only 24% of office workers in major cities like San Francisco, Dallas and New York had returned to the office, according to data from the building-security company Kastle Systems. But with the pace of vaccinations accelerating, by summer it’s reasonable to expect that virtually every person who worked in an office before the pandemic will be able to get a vaccine if they want one. Which means that from a health perspective, there should be little obstacle to office life returning to what it was before the wrong bat met the wrong person and touched off Covid-19.


So things will go back to The Office kind of normal? Not quite, writes our contributor Bryan Walsh, the Future Correspondent for Axios. One year in, the experiences of the pandemic have fundamentally changed our expectations of what office work is and how it can be done. Thanks in part to new technologies like easy videoconferencing and message apps like Slack, we now know it is entirely possible for most white-collar knowledge work to be done remotely with little loss of productivity–and possibly even a gain by some measurements. When grocery-store workers and meatpacking employees couldn’t make it to their workplaces, those corners of the economy teetered on collapse. But when most of the nation’s office workers were sent home in mid-March 2020, for the most part they just kept working from spare bedrooms and kitchens and whatever corner of space they could carve out for their laptops.


The second thing we learned is that the virus itself isn’t the only thing keeping office workers out of the office. Surveys from researchers at Stanford University who looked at both what workers want–and what bosses have so far promised–indicate that hybrid work will be the dominant form going forward: a mix of remote work and in-person office work two or three days a week. In fact, many workers are unlikely to return to the office at all. A report from Emergent Research estimates that 15% to 18% of workers will be full-time remote even after the pandemic, up from single digits before Covid-19.


The pandemic is far from over, so it’s possible some of these attitudes will shift in the months ahead. Working parents may feel differently about the lures of remote work once their kids are able to go back to full-time, in-person schooling, while employees who took the opportunity to move to cheaper, bigger housing far from their original office likely won’t be able to come back to even a hybrid setup. But there will be no going back to the pre-pandemic normal. A survey from the office-management software company Envoy found that nearly half of workers say they would leave their job if they weren’t offered at least a hybrid work option, while another survey found that workers would take an 8% pay cut for a hybrid option.


Rethinking the Value of Business Districts


Yet as much as employees may desire hybrid work, on a national scale it will present profound challenges for both workers and managers, as well as the cities that have long hosted them. Currently 16.4% of office space in Midtown and lower Manhattan, the country’s two largest central business districts, is up for lease, a larger amount of vacant space than after 9/11 or the 2008 recession. While some of that space will assuredly be filled as the pandemic ends, a hybrid future, let alone a remote-first one, will likely require less space for businesses. This will have enormous knock-on effects for the restaurants, cafes, public transit and other services that cater to commuters. It’s far from clear what will fill the vacant storefronts in Manhattan or Los Angeles if the flow of commuting office workers drops by even 10% over the long term.


Making a Reservation for Your Work Station


For both workers and companies, hybrid work may seem like the perfect solution, but it will require a fundamental rethinking of what an office is actually for. In the future, office spaces may be less for doing all work than for doing specific work, and it will fall to managers to make those lines clear. That will mean specific days or even weeks when workers are expected in the office, and guidelines about what they’ll do when they’re there. Instead of the single, gleaming central headquarters, companies may benefit from smaller but more numerous satellite offices–or even co-working spaces, which could herald the rebound of firms like WeWork.


Office time will be set aside for specific collaboration projects that require in-person face time, with different teams getting different time slots. That persistent question–“could this meeting have been an email?”–will become even more vital in the hybrid age. But with space likely to be at a premium in the slimmed-down office of the future, managers will need to know exactly when workers will be in the office, which means going to your workstation could be akin to signing up for a popular exercise class.


Avoiding burnout may be the biggest challenge–although for many workers, it might be too late. According to a report from Microsoft, time spent in meetings is more than double what it was last year. Workers now spend an additional hour connected to Slack than they did before the pandemic, and Microsoft’s survey found that nearly 40% of workers are reporting that they feel exhausted from all that screen time, though we can hope at least some of those negative feelings will be curbed when the pandemic is finally in our rear-view mirror.


Measuring Our Work


Some help may come from the adoption of workflow-automation tools, which accelerated during the pandemic. The pace of adoption will only grow, and at their best, these tools can lighten the load of office workers by automating the tedious tasks that make up much of our workday. But they also represent a very real threat to workers who will lose their jobs in the name of automation efficiency, a trend that will likely be strengthened in a remote or hybrid-first future, when productivity will be judged by metrics rather than presence. It’s a lot easier to treat your workers as bits of output when “they’re just squares on a Zoom screen,” rather than flesh-and-blood humans in a cubicle, as Kevin Roose, the New York Times writer and author of the new book Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation, told me recently.


Both remote and hybrid futures also present a threat to something that is difficult to measure: company culture. “It’s hard to inculcate culture and character and all those things,” Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, said recently. “It’s very hard to build and develop a deeper relationship on Zoom.” The big losers may be younger or new workers who haven’t had the opportunity to build up the kind of social capital that helps sustain a remote career. Data from Time is Ltd. found that the number of connections that new hires make at work is down 17% from before the pandemic. And it’s notable that employees over the age of 40, who have deeper professional networks and are more likely to have a remote-friendly setup at home, are more likely to say they would prefer to continue working remotely, compared with workers under 40. Affirming the mood gap, data from Microsoft indicates that business leaders say they are thriving in the pandemic even as members of Gen Z say they are “merely surviving or flat-out struggling.”


Setting a New Set of Office Rules      

At the same time, managers will need to be on guard against the tyranny of physical proximity. A hybrid future where top corporate executives are able to continue working in-person, while most lower-level employees work remotely or in a hybrid fashion, is one set up to unfairly favor those workers who can make it to the office. That means setting parameters not just about how often an employee can work from home, but also how often they can work in the office, to ensure that corporate advancement doesn’t once again depend on who can put in the most facetime.


As we look to the future of work, it’s important to keep in mind that everything workers went through over the past year was colored by the experience of what is hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. The trauma of sick and dying family members, the productivity nightmare that was remote learning for many working parents, even the inability to tote your laptop to a local café–all of this should be behind us, sooner or later. But this means that for all we learned during the year of the plague, workers and managers are about to embark on an experience that in its own way will be just as unprecedented as the pandemic itself. And unlike Covid-19, we have no way of knowing when or how it will settle into a new kind of day at the office. 


Two Workplace Qualities for Our Time, Resilience and Courage: These two virtues gained new importance in the world of work over the past year as employees navigated layer upon layer of crisis–the pandemic, recession, and racial-justice movement. So it’s fitting that these qualities were the focus of two mini-masterclass sessions presented recently during Harvard Business Review’s virtual event on Leaders Who Make a Difference. Marcus Buckingham, the author and business consultant who leads research at the ADP Research Institute, talked about the importance of building resilient teams. And Vernā Myers, VP of inclusion strategy at Netflix, spoke on having the courage to fight for a more inclusive workplace. Read the full story here.


Why Corporate America Joined the Battle Over Voting Rights: Compared with their swift responses to the Black Lives Matter protests last summer and the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January, America’s corporate leaders seemed hesitant at first to take a stand over the growing political fracas over voting rights. Yet in a remarkable series of events that unfolded in just days recently, corporations came off the sidelines like athletes in a bench-clearing brawl, taking the side of voting-rights advocates. Provoked initially by Georgia’s new elections law, which contains a host of provisions that activists say will have a disproportionate impact on Black voters, hundreds of major corporations have joined a nationwide, state-by-state battleground that has fractured their traditional alliances with the Republican Party. Read the full story here.


How We Can Develop More Authentic Leaders: When Teresa Hopke, CEO of the leadership-coaching consultancy Talking Talent, coached a group of 50 women–all the highest performers in their organization–she found a startling commonality. “They all showed up with confidence issues,” she recalled. “They thought they were the only ones who had somehow been wrongly selected for this program.” As the women began to talk and relate over shared experiences, “they all realized they had this human connectedness around their vulnerabilities, which allows us to be authentic,” Hopke said. The experience spoke to the power of bringing authenticity into leadership development, the theme of From Day One’s March virtual conference. The panelists discussed what authenticity is, what it’s not, and the best ways to practice and encourage it in the workplace. Read the full story here.


Training the Leaders of Tomorrow? Best to Start Early: Training leaders is not just about moving employees up your ladder. Effective leadership education can build culture, foster diversity and inclusion, and influence company reputation. Belinda Grant-Anderson, VP of talent development at AT&T, said leadership-training programs can reinforce the behaviors that companies want at the center of company culture. Internal leadership training can also have effects outside a company’s doors, said Cheryl Smith, who heads talent development at Xerox, where she trains leaders who will shape the company’s reputation. “We wanted to show that we’re committed to early-career folks,” Smith said. “You know, Xerox isn’t just your father’s company.” Read the full story here.


How Well Do You Know Your Team’s Emotional Landscape? We’ve all heard the saying before: “Act professional.” In fact, it’s such an ingrained ethic in Corporate America that we tend to disregard how employees navigate a complex sea of emotions as they come to work each day. “We become less emotionally intelligent when we enter the workplace, because of all of the norms of ‘act professional,’” said Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a professor of business administration at the University of Michigan, at the From Day One conference. “In the workplace you’re supposed to just focus on the task and not the people–but that’s no longer an option.” Asserting that the pandemic has strained the old playbook for emotional management, he made the case that leaders must recognize how employees bring a diversity of moods to work each day. Read the full story here.


Parents Under Pressure: How to Ensure Their Well-being. The life of working parents is a juggling act in normal times, but the pandemic has made it an unsustainable one. Handling childcare and school, paid work and housework, means something has to give. And for many parents, what gives is their mental health. Lisa Adukia, manager of total rewards communications at Gap Inc., said parents and managers went straight into “survival mode” with such speed that they didn’t have time to plan for what remote work and childcare would look like. Believing it’s not too late to have that conversation, five leaders in HR and employee care lent their expertise in a From Day One webinar. “Every family that you talk to has a different set of circumstances going on at home,” said Adukia, “so companies can’t expect to deploy a one-size-fits-all.” Read the full story here.


“Zoom Fatigue” May Be With Us for Years. Here's How We'll Cope: New research shows how employers and tech companies can maintain the positive aspects of remote work while reducing the psychological drain, particularly for women, reports National Geographic. Among the elements that tax the brain: The self-view video, the crowd of faces on the screen, the expectation to stay in view of the camera, and the lack of nonverbal cues. On the same topic, MIT Sloan Management Review offers a host of tips on how to combat virtual-meeting exhaustion.


Is Your Team Solving Problems, or Just Identifying Them? Some teams are really good at identifying problems. When colleagues propose new ideas, team members readily ask tough questions and point out risks. But they ought to be providing constructive feedback as well. How can you encourage team members to think more creatively about solving problems? For starters, they need to see you doing it. Be a role model, reports Harvard Business Review.


Why Amazon Workers Dealt a Setback to Organized Labor: About 71% of Amazon workers at the company’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse facility voted against unionization. Warehouse employees cited job security as well as the company’s arguments highlighting its strengths and the union’s weaknesses, according to the Wall Street Journal. The employees who sided against unionization said they grew convinced that their pay and benefits might not markedly increase with the help of a union.


If Your Employees Are Thinking of Leaving, This May Be Why: During the past year of economic and social upheaval, it would seem reasonable to assume that workers who had retained employment would remain committed to keeping those jobs. Yet a new survey of 2,000 employees by the Workforce Institute, the research arm of HR engagement platform Achievers, yielded some startling results. “One of the first findings that was a little surprising was the uptick in the percentage of employees who claimed they’d be putting their ear to the ground for a job hunt,” said Brie Harvey, Achievers’ Employee Engagement Evangelist, speaking in a From Day One webinar. “According to the survey, more than half of employees will be hitting up the job boards for opportunities to potentially jump ship, which is an increase of more than 40% from the previous year.” Read the full story here.


Does Your Team Have a Healthy Climate? Here’s How to Tell: Businesses today focus a lot of attention on their overall corporate culture, yet research has shown that the most influential environment in a workplace is at the team level. SSCA, an executive-leadership consulting firm, puts a particular emphasis on what it calls the “climate” among workplace groups. From Day One spoke with Stephanie Tran, a partner and executive coach at the firm, about the concept of climate, the behavioral science behind it, and the practical ways in which leaders can promote a healthy workplace. “Climate is a subset of culture, a smaller component within the organization that's directly controlled or created by the leader you report to,” said Tran, who described the six components that make up a team’s climate. Read the full story here.


At Tax Time, a Few Helpful Tips for Your Employees: Taxpayers got good news last month when the IRS  announced that the deadline for filing their 2020 returns would be pushed back a month, to May 17. The later filing deadline gives taxpayers more time to adjust to the disruptions of the pandemic–as well as consider the impact of changes in the tax laws. What should they be thinking about? For some tax tips, From Day One consulted with Moses Balian, HR Consulting Manager for Justworks, the payroll and benefits platform. His suggestions covered the new tax break for unemployment benefits, the home-office deduction, charitable deductions, IRA contributions, and more. Read the full story here.


April 20: Fostering Employee Engagement in Healthcare with Technology

In the pandemic era, workforce health and well-being snapped into focus as a top priority for business leaders. With employees often puzzled by a wide array of choices, unaware of available benefits, or reluctant to seek help, driving health engagement has become mission-critical. We’ll dive deep into how leading employers can address these issues with a seamless experience and ecosystem, a consumerized approach, and a balance of technology and compassion as well as personalization and data-driven insights. Register now.


April 27: Helping Employees Navigate the Fertility Journey

Infertility is on the rise, with one in eight U.S. couples affected by fertility challenges. Yet this increasingly common experience is all too often perplexing and overwhelming. Without clear guidance, many aspiring parents can wind up going down the wrong path, resulting in wasted energy and emotional distress. As more companies offer fertility benefits, what are the best ways for them to help employees understand and navigate the journey? Register now.


April 29: Disaster Readiness, Relief and Recovery

We’ll explore disaster-philanthropy trends and opportunities for future readiness, relief and recovery. The purpose of these efforts: to boost resilience in the workforce and in communities in crisis. We will discuss recently released research on the impact of relief grants to individuals; how socially responsible corporations align their disaster readiness and response with their ESG strategy; the considerations by funders who assist in equitable recovery in the U.S. and worldwide; and insights from the recently released “Philanthropy and Covid-19 in 2020 Report,” including the evolution of grantmaking to a trust-based model. Register now.


May 27: Increasing Engagement by Building Motivation into the Work

How employers can boost worker motivation by using new tools and procedures to lighten an employee's load of tactical-chore drudgery. The desired result: more work time for creativity and collaboration, which could benefit not just worker satisfaction but also company-wide innovation and transformation. Register now.


June 8: Mind the Gap: Understanding and Closing the Future Skills Gap to Build the Workforce of the Future

No one can predict the future world of work, but we can put in place talent frameworks that enable us to respond to change nimbly and confidently. During this session, Aon will share their latest research on the trending skills your workforce needs to drive the success and future readiness of your organization. Join our Aon Future Skills experts to learn: the future critical skills needed to optimize your talent strategies, how to measure them in your workforce and identify any gaps; how to benchmark skills against peer organizations; how to drive the reskilling and upskilling journey through a lasting skills taxonomy; and how to align your rewards strategy to value future relevant skills. Register now.




April 21: Digital Tools for Building an Engaged, Productive Team

In workforces transformed by remote work and challenged by stress, employers can take advantage of new platforms and approaches to boost engagement as well as productivity. What are the best new methods for collaboration? How can managers align the new tools with company culture and workflow to make sure the overall effect is sustainable and beneficial to worker well-being? You can register here to attend.


May 19: Diversity: How Employers Can Match Words With Deeds 

Promises were made, now promises need to be kept. But that's the hard part. How can progress be jump-started? Based on experience with D&I initiatives, what works and what doesn't? What is the latest thinking on bias mitigation in hiring, inclusion, and promotion? What training and incentives are most effective for holding leaders accountable for making sustainable progress? And how can leaders have those uncomfortable conversations about what needs to happen–and who should be included in these conversations? You can register here to attend.


June 16: The New Benefits That Employees Need and Want Toda

In a crisis era, workers have spoken up about the new and improved benefits that would help them manage their work and their lives. They want more offerings in health and wellness, mental-health care, child care, financial wellness, and more. How have employers responded, while keeping costs under control? How can companies offer menus of benefits, to avoid the one-size-fits-all approach? What kinds of voluntary benefits should companies consider, like vision insurance? You can register here to attend.


July 21: Being an Ally: How to Inspire and Encourage It Among Workers

The pandemic cast a spotlight on America's gaps in supporting its working parents. School was practically the only safety net–until it wasn't. Women left their career tracks en masse. As the economy recovers, what changes can business and government make to help working parents do their jobs well, both at work and home? What are the prospects for child care, family leave, new health-care solutions and financial-wellness programs? You can register here to attend.


Aug. 18: Learning From a Crisis About What Working Parents Need

The pandemic cast a spotlight on America's gaps in supporting its working parents. School was practically the only safety net–until it wasn't. Women left their career tracks en masse. As the economy recovers, what changes can business and government make to help working parents do their jobs well, both at work and home? What are the prospects for child care, family leave, new health-care solutions and financial-wellness programs? You can register here to attend.


Sept. 15: New Ideas and Tactics for Successful Diversity Recruiting

Many employers have renewed their commitment to diversity, but what are the best ways of recruiting the diverse workforce of tomorrow? How can companies improve their early-talent pipelines, including internships and campus recruiting? How can they use digital tools to spot talent in the marketplace as well as finding candidates for advancement in their own workforces? What are the best ways from removing bias from the process, including the algorithms? And how can employers make themselves more attractive to diverse candidates? You can register here to attend.


Oct. 20: Promoting Employee Mental Health, Wellness and Stress Reduction

During the crises of 2020-21, an old stigma was lifted: Nearly everyone could admit they were emotionally stressed and struggling in some way. But what is the response that employers can offer their workers? What are the smartest, most creative and empathetic programs and support systems can companies offer in terms of mental-health care, general wellness, stress relief, and counseling? What were the insights about burnout and how to address it? You can register here to attend.


Nov. 17: Building a Skilled Team: How Upskilling, Coaching, and Recognition Can Help

Digital transformation and disruption will challenge employers to put more emphasis than ever on employee skills, starting with predicting what skills will be needed. How will corporate training programs evolve? How can coaching and mentoring evolve to support a remote workforce and increasingly diverse staff? What are the best new ways to recognize workers for their capabilities and accomplishments? You can register here to attend.


Dec. 15: The Future of Work in an Era of Rapid Change

The way we work has changed at a breakneck pace, but not always as we imagined it would. How is transformation unfolding in surprising ways? Will AI and other technologies replace human workers–or empower them? What new ways will human talent be discovered, developed, and deployed? What will people value in their work in terms of tangible and psychic rewards? You can register here to attend.

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