When the pandemic started, we didn’t know how long it would last. People figured out how to work from home with the assumption that eventually they would resume office life much as it had been before.
But with many people still working from home nine months in, this looks increasingly unlikely. Vaccines or not (and wow for quickly produced vaccines!) the world of work has probably changed permanently. We have learned that much information work does not need to be done in an office, at set times, for 40 hours a week. There are huge benefits to seeing each other in person — that is true. But this is not an either/or situation. Forty hours a week in an office is probably overkill. When people can work in person sometimes, and remotely sometimes, they will have the best of both worlds. They’ll do deep collaboration on in-person days, and deep individual work on the remote ones.
So this begs the question: what should the new hybrid situation look like? Google floated the idea of a 3-day/2-day workweek split, which could work. But I’d suggest that for many kinds of work, a different model — in the office one week a month, and remotely three weeks a month — might have some more transformative upsides.
Here’s why. First, if you’re getting people together for a week a month, teams could probably just rent temporary conference space (in a hotel, a conference center, or in new co-working type spaces that will spring up to accommodate this). Many organizations, particularly smaller ones, wouldn’t necessarily need to own a headquarters. Those that did could get by with much smaller ones, since most of the time in them would be spent in group activities, rather than at individual work stations. Money that isn’t going into maintaining huge gleaming office spaces can go to salaries and operations. This is likely a more efficient use of capital!
Second, if you’re getting together for a week a month, you can hire from just about anywhere. People would fly in for the week, and stay at a hotel or AirBnB type set-up. This would expand the talent pool in all kinds of ways. It’s hard to believe that all the best people for any kind of work live within an hour of any particular organization’s headquarters, or could easily move their families there. By changing the in-person requirement, you can separate the question of where people live from where they work, and not require people to have the same answer for both.
Having people be in the office a few days per week can help people achieve the productivity and work/life balance benefits of working from home. But reworking this to be a few concentrated days per month opens up more possibilities.
Photo: Flying over Chicago…