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Which one of these is you?
In part one of our three part series on the future of the workforce, we talked about how a change in values is shifting the way we work. In part two, we'll talk about how WHERE we work is changing it.
You don’t have to look too far back to recall a time when most employees did most of their work in a traditional office setting. With the advent of technologies to help us connect remotely, many U.S. workers no longer report to an office on a regular basis, if at all. In terms of driving this change, there were several factors involved and some surprises in terms of the kinds of companies who have heavily supported the transition to a more remote workforce.
There are some great resources that explain, in detail, the advantages of the new flexibility in work venues. Just a few of the key factors driving the trend towards working from remote/home office spaces include:
With all of the advantages migration towards remote work flexibility has brought to employers and employees alike, there have been some recent, high profile examples where companies have “walked back” their commitment to work-from-home options, either limiting them or providing greater oversight as to which employees are eligible. The recent decisions by technology leaders Yahoo, followed by HP, to bring employees back into shared work-spaces will be analyzed in the next few years. Having shown the courage of her convictions in bucking some high profile critics, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer is now confirming that employee engagement and productivity is up in the wake of the move back towards co-location. Depending on what is learned over the next few years, the decisions by these major companies could spur a trend back towards employees spending more time in their company’s offices.
The issue of productivity for remote workers has led to concerns that remote work may not be for everyone, at least not all the time. For companies that use a mixed model, days in the office should be used to full advantage to plan collaborative events and to plan face time between managers and employees to address goals, challenges and to plan strategy. For companies who continue with a commitment to full-time remote work, managers who have been used to managing co-located teams need to make adjustments to managing remote employees to be sure that the team is getting the strategic direction and support it needs.
Blurring the line between personal time and work has become a hot topic. As more people work from home, that once cherished tradition of leaving work behind at the office has become blurred as people move seamlessly from a conference call to a meeting at their child’s school to writing up documentation to meeting friends for coffee and back home again to review some competitive intelligence. There are folks, like Richard Branson, who blend their business and personal lives together and claim that is the preferred approach to life. Conversely, there is a body of work that suggests employees and employers who fail to enforce some boundaries and find ways to balance their work/home responsibilities can burn out and become less effective in both roles.
Let’s start with the boomers. They accelerated this journey of change in work venue in the 1990’s. It was their changing lifestyles, their desire be different kinds of parents and workers than their parent’s generation that began this new era in workplace flexibility. For many boomers, the transition to work-from-home began as a part-time offering where, for certain days of the week, or certain times of day, they were afforded the flexibility by their (often cautious employers) to work from home. They were the pioneers and their successes in being able to be productive and engaged from an off-site venue paved the way for the Gen X and Millennial employees to follow.
Gen Xers want choice. A recent study by EY (formerly Ernst & Young) showed that Gen Xer’s were strongly influenced by workplace flexibility in choosing an employer to the point that they would walk away from a job where such flexibility isn’t available. As Gen Xers begin to assume the leadership roles of retiring baby boomers, it seems reasonable to expect workplace flexibility to continue to be a strong force in corporate decision making.
Millennials bring new challenges in the design of work spaces. While much has been written about the Millennial’s desire for workplace flexibility, one important change we’ve seen with them is a preference for urban environments over the suburban enclaves favored by their parents. With a preference for urban living, comes the ability (and desire) to be able to work at least some of the time from an office space that is walkable from their home. The huge growth in Boston’s Seaport district is driven in large part by this desire of young, tech-savvy millennials to be able to live, work and recreate in a walkable, urban environment. While many millennials have shown a desire to return to work amongst their colleagues, their preference for open work environments and flexible spaces are driving a revolution in office space design as companies move to attract and retain these tech and social media savvy workers.
Despite some of the recent backlash from significant thought leaders like Yahoo and HP, it’s clear that much of America’s workforce will continue to be working remotely on either a full or part-time basis for the foreseeable future. While work-from-home has been a significant reality for the last two decades, in many ways, managers of remote teams still have work to do to adopt appropriate new skills and technologies to effectively manage remote employees and teams.
Here are a few thoughts on ways to do this:
While new generations and technologies have redefined “workspace” to include home offices, coffee shops, trains and airplanes, work still needs to be accomplished, employees must collaborate and managers must make sure teams meet goals and objectives. Understanding the trends and preferences in work venues and thinking of new strategies to both manage remote employees and configure the modern workspace for office bound employees will continue to drive organizational success by helping you retain top talent while maintaining healthy levels of innovation, collaboration and engagement.
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