It’s been a few years since we found ourselves in a sprint to help our clients work effectively from home during the 2020 COVID quarantine. We put out loads of articles and webinars and podcasts and TV segments on working remotely, and then on the challenges and benefits of hybrid work once quarantine was lifted.
In 2021, we made some predictions specifically on which of the COVID-related technology trends would permanently change the way we work. Of note we suspected most industries would stick with a hybrid work environment that is neither fully remote nor fully office-bound.
Today, near the end of 2023, were those predictions correct? For the most part, yes! (phew)
State of the workforce – Trends we’re seeing in the DC Metro Area
As an IT services firm we have unique insight into how organizations are operating—from where, with what tools, and with how much success. Here’s what we’ve seen:
Hybrid work is still a sensitive subject.
Employees and employers alike have strong feelings on both sides of the aisle. While one employee may link remote work to a societal decline, another might link office work to decreased quality of life. Ignore the emotional aspect at your own risk.
Mandates don’t really fly.
Given the above it follows that unilateral decisions will usually result in some churn. Deloitte found that 77% of Gen Zs and 75% of millennials would try to leave their jobs if they were asked to work exclusively from the office. If you intend to go that direction, have a contingency plan ready.
Tech is not a factor.
The ability to work effectively from home is not a valid talking point any longer. While some may argue about productivity here versus there, the actual technological capability is not really up for debate – we know it can work. Cite this as an obstacle and your team will call BS.
Region and industry play a role…
Kastle Systems reports that major U.S. cities are right around 50% office occupancy on average at time of writing. San Francisco has the smallest office presence at more than 10% below that average, and Houston has the largest at more than 10% above. Across all metropolitan areas except D.C. law firms spend much more time in the office with the national average at 63%. Here in D.C. law firms fall in line with other industries with an average around 50%.
…but corporate culture is the North Star.
Ultimately your stance needs to mesh with your culture. At Optimal we’ve had teammates working remotely at client sites since the 90s, and we also have several meaningful in-person traditions like our homemade breakfasts. For us, designating one day each week (Tuesdays) for local employees to come into the office and break bread strikes the right balance. If your team is highly extroverted, that might not be enough.
As with all organizational change, the example is set at the top; however you decide to answer the question of where to work, have your leadership pave the way.
Tech itself is not an obstacle, but tech guidance and support may be
Since it’s our area of expertise, allow us to emphasize this point: If you have welcomed hybrid or remote work in any capacity, know that today’s technology can absolutely empower your team to work securely and effectively from wherever they happen to be on any given day.
If you’re struggling with systems that were jury-rigged, you shouldn’t be.
The right technology infrastructure is, of course, only as good as the team managing and supporting it. When it comes to supporting a flexible technology setup, make sure your service model is aligned with the unique needs of a dispersed team. What we mean by that is:
The quality of remote support is paramount.
A top-notch helpdesk is important for everyone, but it becomes mission-critical when that’s your only means of getting your problems fixed. Performance metrics will give you some insight into a team’s capabilities, but also give weight to what sort of feedback loops and grievance channels are baked into your provider’s support model.
On-site support takes the bench.
If your team isn’t based in your office, your infrastructure probably isn’t either; most of us are relying heavily if not exclusively on cloud services hosted by a mix of providers. Many businesses still choose local IT partners for the peace of mind proximity offers just in case, but having a regular engineering presence at your office is less of a necessity.
Ideally your provider will initiate adjustments to your service mix as your style of work evolves, but know that you can approach them for calibration as well.
If you still haven’t managed to work the kinks out of your technology environment or support team, it doesn’t have to be that way! Let’s set up a conversation and see if we might be the right fit to help get you on a better path forward.