By Karina Margit Erdelyi

Navigating the New Normal — Should We Go Back to Work or Stay WFH?

2020 was a survival mode year — whereas 2021 is a robust, if recovering, one. After months of discussion, both employees and employers are looking at yet another possible set of changes centered on where work happens. The big question: should you stay (WFH) or should you go (back to the office)? Photo by djurdjica-boskovic-G8_A4ZWxE3E-unsplash

We have hit a collective fork in the road, employers and employees alike. The only thing we know for sure is that there’s nothing “normal” about navigating the new normal.

Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones, with a job that has been remote since last Spring. But now your company is asking folks to come back to the office. Should you go? Yes. No. Maybe? It’s a tough nut to crack — even if you have faith in your organization’s plan for COVID safety.

Companies are also trying to balance things: “Should we renew our lease? Should we hire as if we are a remote company? What does that look like operationally?”

Some companies, like Twitter, announced that they would be WFH forever, and juggernauts like J.P. Morgan Chase has taken a more middle road, sharing that 10% of its 255,000 U.S.-based employees will be WFH 100% of the time, while others can continue to be remote some of the time. Due to their prestige and status, both companies have served as corporate bellwethers for the operational decisions they make and have been at the forefront of the remote-work conversation. And still, other formidably sized companies, like Goldman Sachs and Apple, are clamoring for a return from what David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, referencing the pandemic, termed “an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible” and expect to be fully back in the office by the end of the year.

It’s a unique moment, to say the least — and some trends have come to the fore. From a talent acquisition perspective, recruiters and hiring managers are finding that top talent, particularly at the more senior levels in research insights and analytics, are inquiring (and qualifying opportunity) about option to or official policy on WFH, at least some of the time — creating a de facto “requirement” if you’re looking to hire top talent. And the research bears this out: an upcoming survey of 9,000 workers by Accenture has found what we have seen in the field, that 83% of respondents see a hybrid workplace as optimal — with the ability to be remote between 25% and 75% of the time — which they refer to as a “work anywhere” workplace. This means that companies need to figure out the logistics and operational ins and outs of these new ways of working — and fast.

Different companies will go different ways — some offering workers a choice while others step up the pressure or issue ultimatums, while others divest real estate, invest in remote work infrastructure and talent (wherever it may be).

If you are facing a decision, whether employee or employer, there are some keys things to consider:

For employees:

+    Will staying WFH hurt your chances for promotion and career advancement?

+    Are you willing to take a pay cut to stay remote?

+    What is your level of concern with respect to job security if you stay home while others return to the office?

+    What model — all remote or hybrid — resonates most for your role and where you are in your career?

For employers:

+    What are the cost savings of a 100% remote or hybrid model?

+    How does a hybrid model work operationally with some workers WFH while others are in the office?

+    Does or should compensation change?

+    Should policies differ for new hires versus existing employees in terms of whether they can be remote or hybrid?

Prudential surveyed 1,046 remote workers this past March and found that 43% said they would be anxious about their job security if they stayed home while others returned to the office. But the data also shows that many do not want to go back, at least not every day — with nine out of ten workers saying that they wish to WFH at least once a week post-pandemic and with one in three stating that they would not work for a company that made them be on-site, full time. The truth is that work has forever been changed; the workforce of the future will not want to come into the office to do a spreadsheet when they can crank a spreadsheet out remotely just fine. Instead, they will want to come in to collaborate with teammates, brainstorm, and work on projects. Yes, there will be unintended challenges to grapple with, but we may be worming our way into a new paradigm that actually suits us better than our pre-pandemic work-a-day lives. Only time will tell how it all ultimately unfolds.