As vaccination rates increase across the U.S., many companies are shifting focus from “when to return” to the longer-term question of “how” they should best configure the office footprint. Indeed, several CEOs have spoken publicly regarding their views on the future of work, hybrid working models, and the importance of in-person interactions.
Throughout the pandemic, Deloitte has had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of companies about how they view the future of the office, what they are hearing from their employees, and how management is planning for the post-pandemic return to workspaces. Opinions about the workplace are widely dispersed, in part due to numerous work-related paradoxes that the pandemic has revealed:
• Many employees report being more productive at home, yet many suffer from videoconferencing “fatigue”
• A number of leaders want workers back in offices, yet employee surveys consistently reveal that a significant percentage would prefer hybrid or work-from-home options
• Many employers want to optimize the office footprint, yet are not sure how many team members will come back—or who still resides within a commutable distance to the office
In our discussions with companies, we are observing three distinct “workplace archetypes” that company leaders and cultures appear to fall into: Traditionalist, Progressive, and Visionary.
The Traditionalist Workplace Archetype includes leaders who hold the view that the company’s work is best delivered in the office. They strongly prefer to return to a pre-pandemic condition, valuing the in-person interactions that the office enables. Traditionalist Workplace Archetype adopters expect to communicate to their employees that their job is in the office, and are unlikely to support large-scale adoption of virtual work, work-from-home, or hybrid models. As they seek to promote the return to the workplace for most if not all of their office staff, they are likely to retain many, if not most, of their office spaces.
Those who fit into the Progressive Workplace Archetype believe the pandemic has revealed that many workers prefer to choose where and how they work. These leaders believe that employee surveys demonstrate that workers may fit into work-from-home, hybrid, and office-based categories, as well as other variations. Progressive Workplace Archetype adopters plan to provide places and spaces for those who wish to work in offices some or all of the time, and will support those who wish to continue to work remotely. They anticipate capitalizing on opportunities to reduce the amount of office they need, given their expectation for lower post-pandemic space utilization.
Those companies and leaders who adopt a Visionary Workplace Archetype go a step further. They believe that their people have proven they can work remotely, and wish to make significant changes to their approach to work and the workplace. These leaders anticipate that the vast majority of their teams will adopt a “virtual first” work style, perhaps only coming in to a company workplace infrequently. They indicate that their post-pandemic workplaces may likely require less space, while still enabling opportunities for collaboration and innovation for when employees do choose to commute in.
Note that for some companies, these archetypes may represent the workplace approach for the entire office population, while others may allow for work style variations for different functions and locations.
As they plan for the return to office and the longer-term future of the workplace, CEOs may wish to consider:
1. Whether the company’s culture will allow for employees to choose where and how they work and if that culture should be applied evenly across functions and locations.
2. Directing their teams to reflect on the purpose of the office— what are the workplace “moments that matter” for staff, those key interactions that employees seek to have face-to-face that would motivate them to make the commute to the office?
3. Undertaking more detailed employee surveys regarding productivity, work styles, and preferences to enable teams to better prepare the post-pandemic workplace.
4. Utilizing analytics and scenario planning to reconfigure the office footprint according to how employees will work, with the right mix of innovation, collaboration, and individual work places.
Every company’s approach to the future of the office must be nuanced to suit their culture. Taking the time to assess the opportunities and adopt the right workplace archetype(s) to fit the needs and wants of leadership and associates will be key to successfully navigating the transition to a post-pandemic workplace.