Opinion by Henry Fernandez for CNN Business Perspectives
The coronavirus pandemic, which left so much destruction in its wake, revealed the depths of human resiliency and ingenuity. Seemingly overnight, many of the world’s largest, most complex organizations underwent radical transformations in order to rise to the challenge. People across the globe found ways to stay productive, from individuals working at home to small businesses reworking offerings and enhancing digital capabilities to stay afloat.
As someone leading a global enterprise, the ability of so many to adapt so well was among the most inspirational things I have ever witnessed. It is why it has been disappointing to see many organizations announce an end to virtual work and a return to the old way of doing things. We now have an extraordinary, once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape a decades-old model of what it means for people to work together, and we need to take advantage of it.
The model of convening employees in an office started in the early 1900s. Informed by the efficiencies realized during the Industrial Revolution, centralization became a defining theme for the next century. Commercial office buildings sprung up to meet growing demand, and the model did not change dramatically over the next 100 years, even with the ubiquity of the internet. But now it is time to mirror the level of innovation that has occurred within the workplace with innovation of the workplace. This means it’s time for more of the world to rethink the way we work and commit to doing things differently.
That’s what we decided to do at our firm. We’ve adopted a permanent hybrid model, which means that employees have access to office infrastructure but are not required to use it every day. It’s meant to encourage adaptation, creativity, a better quality of life, talent retention and operational resiliency. A hybrid model not only significantly reduces our operating capital, but our carbon footprint as well. For many organizations, shifting to a hybrid model has allowed them to downsize office space, limit electricity usage and operational costs, and offer competitive salaries to a broader talent set.
The voices of our own employees around the world have been and will continue to be critical in ensuring the success of our model. Through regular virtual town halls and pulse surveys, employees have shared overwhelmingly positive feedback. We found that 90% of them felt ready to take on a hybrid model. Specifically, they noted excitement about the opportunity for greater flexibility, offices being transformed into collaborative meeting spaces, and spending more time with family.
Our framework recognizes an inherent flexibility for almost every role at the organization. As we continue to shape it, we are guided by the question, “What should the modern workplace look like, with all its technology, efficiency and global connectivity?” It’s a question that every organization should be asking. Organizations that navigate this question effectively can be more equitable, more diverse, more inclusive, more productive and ultimately, more successful than those that simply return to the default cube-topia of old models. We cannot leave this crisis behind and simply “go back to normal” as if this period did not happen or matter. Defaulting to the old way of working because that is all we have known only leads to stagnation and starves innovation.
I recognize that every organization is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the working business model. I also realize that much of this is an experiment. There are going to be things we get right and challenges we will encounter along the way. But this is an opportunity to fully leverage the sophisticated technological infrastructure we have built over generations and unleash the power that we now have at our fingertips. We should use technology as a tool to overcome and adapt to a new culture, enhance the client experience, improve collaboration, optimize work-life integration and modernize the workplace away from an office as the only option.
We should be inspired by the resilience shown in the face of the pandemic and continue to celebrate that resilience in the post-pandemic world. It is time for organizations to emphasize trust in the workplace and take steps to support their most valuable resource: their people. I am confident that we can create a future that takes the best of both our virtual and in-person worlds and empower people to be more connected, productive, flexible and creative than ever — on their own terms.
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