Thanks to Covid, widespread telecommuting emerged in 2020; its more mature form, the telecommuting hybrid, has started to take shape. In early 2020 the situation was that basically all office workers were forced to work from home essentially full time. Offices, with their threat of Covid contamination, were avoided by all but the most stalwart office hermits.
There are at least two main problems with this situation. First, many telecommuters did not have home environments suitable for full-time telecommuting. Second, most people enjoy and look forward to some face-to-face interaction with their colleagues; video conferencing does not quite satisfy that desire. As a result the newly hatched telecommuters suffered various forms of stress and anomie.
At the other end of the working relationship, managers found that the old, traditional ways of running things didn’t work nearly as well when their employees were geographically dispersed. Since many managers, upon becoming managers, are given little training on management techniques, their natural response has been to use the management-by-walking-around method. Clearly, this doesn’t work with telecommuting and its management-by-results philosophy.
So, in 2021, we have a dilemma: many managers, especially those in the C-suite, would like to have their staff members present in person much or all of their workdays. On the other hand about 60% to 80% of all telecommuters want to keep doing it “most” of the time; the rest want it all of the time [depending on which survey you believe]. Therefore, some hybrid form of telecommuting is in order to resolve the dilemma.
What and when
The operational question here is how to make the hybrid form of telecommuting work so that both management and staff are reasonably satisfied. The answer hinges on the location-specific requirements: the need for actual, instead of virtual, face-to-face time and the need, if any, for access to specific facilities.
Formal face-to-face interaction. This category includes occasions where information technology is an inadequate substitute for being there together. Examples include situations of rapid change or uncertainty such as occasional project planning or startup meetings; “learning the ropes” (aka onboarding) meetings for new employees; large group presentation or discussion meetings that can’t easily be done via the internet.
Informal face-to-face interaction. This comprises organizational “getting to know you” sessions and other meetings that aren’t strictly business but may be useful for developing and maintaining the organizational culture. The schedules for such sessions may be either regular or quite ad hoc.
Access to facilities. On occasion employees may need access to the organization’s facilities because of special equipment there, security requirements or space needs.
Resolving the dilemmas
The solution to these issues is “simply” to develop a flexible, hybrid scheduling system that allows the combinations of home-base and office-based work to continue to everyone’s acceptance, if not total satisfaction. Keep these location-specific thoughts in mind when planning the scheduling. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I expect that this will all settle down to about half-time in each for most telecommuters. This will also probably result in less demand for downtown or regional office space. But the path is clear: this is the future or office work.