A Return to Office, But Not a Return to Normal: A Note from Our CEO, Lawrence Krimker
After 18 months of lockdown, deciding how and when to come back to the office will be the next great challenge that leaders will face. The decision is made more difficult by the fact that there is simply no right or wrong way to come back. Just as there was not a universally tried and accepted blueprint for how to shift away from office work and keep businesses running when the lockdown hit, so too is there a lack of a playbook on how to bridge back.
It took something as substantial as a global pandemic for us to realize what we all should have already known. Productivity and creativity need not be confined to a specific place and time, and those who want to be value-adding contributors to their companies can do so from anywhere in the world, at any time. In most cases, and there are of course exceptions, the old days of 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, should become a relic of the past.
When it comes to working remotely versus return to office, I think the companies that will thrive in the future—the ones that drive innovation, create revenue and profit, and build employee retention and morale—will be the ones that offer the best of both worlds to their workforce.
We have proven that productivity, collaboration, and creativity can be accomplished outside of the office. In the middle of the pandemic, with everyone working remotely, we were able to acquire and successfully merge three companies, all with considerably different corporate cultures, into the Simply Group family. The result was a record-breaking year for our enterprise.
True, there were myriad challenges to working from home for many. Children were home and needed help with online schooling, dogs were barking in the background, some had to bargain with other members of the house over quiet workspaces from which to take Zoom calls. Nevertheless, given the ability to work from anywhere and the freedom to break the traditional workday to determine the hours that they were most productive, people were able to do things that were impossible before, like making time for a quick run between meetings, taking the dog for a walk, or spending time playing with their kids during their lunch breaks, all without sacrificing their productivity. People saved hours in daily commuting and getting ready for work. Given the time for true work-life balance, their dedication to the work did not wane. In fact, the passion our people displayed for both work and their personal lives has been inspiring to me. It showed in the quality of their work, and that was great for business.
But I am not here to advocate for a future of fully remote working. While the benefits of remote work are proven, there are also distinct advantages to being in an office surrounded by your peers. There is something about the energy and buzz that comes from being together that genuinely cannot be replaced by virtual meetings. As productive as we have been, there is no question we have also suffered in isolation. Absent the spontaneity that can occur when people are together has meant less sharing of ideas and capitalizing on our collective intelligence. It has also stunted the growth of our workplace relationships, which are integral to maintaining morale and a shared sense of purpose.
Working from home, for those of us who have had the luxury to do so, has been life-altering. But the fatigue for many is palpable, and the impact that this is starting to have on our highly valued culture and employee satisfaction cannot be underestimated. When we do officially return to the office, we will adopt a flexible approach and safeguard that work for our team members. These will include hoteling stations instead of designated workspaces, rotating schedules, and anchor days in the office. Through their passion, dedication, and productivity, our team members have earned the right to choose how they will make the return to office work for them.
We recognize that in some cases, be it for important meetings or special occasions, people will be returning who are not fully comfortable being back in the office. That is why we will be instituting a wristband policy that will let people know how much space their peers need to feel comfortable in this new environment.
I do not know exactly what the future will look like or how our workforce will adapt. Whether they choose to work remotely, in the office, or a combination of both, the return to office will not mean a return to the old normal. And that is a good thing for everyone.