Working remotely, being paid less? The battle to divide offices will define the future of work | Work and careers in the United States

The world of work was sick enough before the coronavirus took hold, but the pandemic has propelled cultural change.

We can see the impact of this in every metric around work: In the Great Quit of 2021, millions of American workers quit en masse. Workers around the world have said they would quit their jobs if they didn’t have flexibility.

The fall in commercial real estate rents last year reached 10%, with huge changes in the use of office space and coworking spaces. And the city has a new competitor: the suburbs. The flight to the suburbs during the pandemic has led to a surge in the real estate market for residences outside of city centers. For downtown neighborhoods to attract and retain people as places to live and work, downtowns will need to be completely redesigned.

These developments are not surprising: the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that up to a quarter of workers in advanced economies will work permanently on a hybrid basis, that is to say partly from home, several days a week. Discussions about the RTO (return to the office) are increasingly tense and changing. There is no uniform pattern or agreement.

The argument for going to an office regularly needs to be made to staff – and many reject it. Meanwhile, CEOs are dealing with employees who want more flexibility, the ability to work remotely, and even the ability to choose their working hours — and that without a pay cut.

The degree of temporary workers that will be given – to be able to choose where and when to work – may well define us much more than previous classifications in the future. Being labeled as “white collar” or “blue collar” could be replaced by being a “hybrid have-not” or “hybrid have-not” worker.

Additionally, up to half of US jobs are expected to be freelance by 2030 and two-thirds of employers now view some form of remote or hybrid work as “the new normal.” Many businesses claim to be “fully remote,” giving them a competitive edge over those that require presenteeism.

As more of us are now able to choose how to manage the time we spend working in a way that suits us rather than the traditional nine-to-five, discussions around the four-day week have reached an intensity never seen before. We are not yet close to the famous 15-hour work week predicted by John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s, but his prediction seems relevant again. People recognize that their labor, and therefore their time, is a valuable commodity and they want to have more say in when and where they sell it.


In spite of these changes, considerable ambivalence remains among some leaders. In one camp, you have the hardliners who think office work is better. Many believe that those who work from home are to some extent work shy. At the very least, they want to penalize people who prefer to work as a hybrid.

Take the bombastic internal memo sent by James Gorman, president and CEO of Morgan Stanley, to his staff: “If you want to be paid New York rates, you work in New York. None of that ‘I’m in Colorado…and I get paid like I’m sitting in New York’,” echoing an equally robust statement from David Solomon of Goldman Sachs that working from home was “a aberration”.

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Similarly, veteran Wall Street watcher William Cohan said simply, “Here’s my advice to you fellow Wall Street drones: Get back to the office.”

In another camp are the more emollient hybrid softliners such as Kevin Ellis, London-based chairman of consultancy PwC with 285,000 employees in 155 countries around the world, who said “we want to enshrine new models of working so that ‘they are surviving the pandemic’.

Whichever side the employers are on, it is obviously true that a great deal of social capital resides in the office. I spoke to Kevin Ellis, who said, “My worry is that we’re going to create a glass ceiling for people whose careers will be set back because they work from home and don’t realize what they’re missing out on. .

Nonetheless, all of these comments reflect a nostalgia on the part of large corporations, which can no longer magically attract the same type of workers ready to work in the same way as before the pandemic. Hybrid work reflects the fact that mobility and freedom are the new prizes for the professional working class. The move to an atemporal and atemporal dimension of work means that the fixed head office will have to work much harder to attract and retain talent.

Today’s smart leaders think the unthinkable and wonder if they still need an office the same way, not because they follow the hybrid herd, but because they keep their eyes open and ears open to what is happening in their own businesses.

Joanna Swash, CEO of front desk outsourcing, PA and communications provider Moneypenny, was candid that her perceptions had been challenged by the pandemic when everyone had to go completely remote overnight. “Before Covid-19, I thought we had amazing offices and they were that space that everyone loves,” she said. “What I learned was that our culture was so strong that it was not just based on the office or the physical environment, but also on the spirit of the whole community and how that people trust. This should have been obvious to me, but it was a very big lesson at the start of the pandemic.

A similar remark was made by Chris Thurling, president of Armadillo, a digital design firm that went entirely remote during the pandemic, which has grown its business during this time:

“I want to stay completely open-minded about whether we need to have a traditional office again. If you look at how our business has performed since March 2020, we’ve been running very well and our customers aren’t saying it’s There has been a decline in quality Our profitability as a business has increased and we are growing Why would we change too much?

Bruce Daisley, an authority on the future of work and host of the Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast, is watching the hybrid work trend closely. He told me, “Probably the most far-sighted approach I’ve seen was Dropbox, which said at the end of 2020 that having people come into the office for a certain number of days or specific days didn’t work. . Because people think, why am I going to the office on Wednesday? Just because it’s Wednesday doesn’t make sense. People will come to the office when they need to, and they will come to the office for experiences.


PPeople will not enter the office, however, under duress. And if they come, they won’t stay true long. In the summer of 2021, Google faced significant employee dissatisfaction when it announced that it intended to use its compensation calculator to implement compensation based on proximity to the office, reflecting the priority that some employers still gave to presenteeism.

This strategy is risky and unfair, as Sarah O’Connor commented in the Financial Times: “If two workers in the same head office want to switch to working from home, but one inherits a house in an expensive city while the other lived in a suburban town, is it fair for the latter to take a pay cut?

She quoted Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg telling his employees via video, “We’ll adjust pay based on location… There will be serious ramifications for people who aren’t honest about it.” But who is not honest?

Some companies are clearly struggling to come to terms with the serious shift in mindset and values ​​of their talent. It remains to be seen whether management will rise to the challenges of supporting working from home or continue to believe they can persuade and cajole workers into being in the office when they don’t want to.

Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, a French host and columnist based in Paris, also understands presenteeism as something else: a feature of power politics.

“The French system hates the hybrid,” she said. “Because the French boss wants to know what his subordinates, who are very micro-managers most of the time, are doing. A strict hierarchy prevails. And the fact that this hierarchy doesn’t really work with the new ways of [hybrid] working means innovation is slower in our country; sometimes it is even sabotaged by people next to you competing with you for the boss’s attention. If it looks like the courtyard of a small Borgia or Louis XIV minus the decor, that’s where it comes from.

Ultimately, the question for leaders who want their people back in the office is: why? Is it because the regulation of some work from home – especially finance – is legally complex? Is it optics? That management and leaders feel emotionally invested in high-tech, high-tech and visible offices? Or is it a failure to understand the scale and magnitude of change?

Mobility and work are ingrained in us – early 20th century office workers came, as the great Chicago poet Carl Sandburg noted in Skyscraper, from the prairies to the city, to work on a fixed day, then to be “thrown back to the streets, meadows and valleys”. The city has become the fixed place and therefore also the office. But the arrival of the internet, now followed by the pandemic, has created a new center of work: the home, and a new form of mobility: the smartphone, which allows you to work anywhere.

The future of work cannot go backwards, it can only go forward.

This piece was adapted from The Nowhere Office: Reinventing Work and the Workplace of the Future by Julia Hobsbawm, now available

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