The Relevance of Location in the Remote Work Environment
Rajeev Thakur, Head of Growth and Client Strategy
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the reality of where work gets done has changed for the foreseeable future, as tens of millions in the workforce have been forced to quickly shift to a remote work culture. In fact, according to Pew Research Center’s findings in How the Coronavirus Outbreak Has — and Hasn’t — Changed the Way Americans Work, before the pandemic, only 20% of respondents said that they worked from home. Because of the pandemic, those working from home all or most of the time jumped to 71%, and 54% stated that they want to continue working remotely after the outbreak ends.
Companies need to question the conventional wisdom and plan for a changed workforce. The geography of talent needs to be viewed differently as well. Companies could consider a move to a hub and spoke model with hybrid work arrangement, where a hub is the company’s long-term, branded workplace, and the spokes provide employees with a mostly work-from-home arrangement with available co-working spaces for occasional use. The metro with the largest talent pool and better connectivity becomes the hub while spokes are the communities within a two to three hour drive-time.
Why this model? Because with Covid-19, not only have the cultural and social norms in how and where work gets done changed, but also, the pandemic accelerated the remote work trends that were already taking shape. In fact, many have realized that a lot of work can be done remotely, but working remote exclusively does not work for everyone and all tasks. Also, with a hub and spoke model, the workforce is no longer confined to one city. Instead, companies can have their workforce distributed across a cluster of cities, and with that, can increase access to talent pools while reducing real estate cost and risk. When people are allowed to live where they like and don’t have to commute that often, then they are likely to accept a tradeoff of a lower salary as well.
Without question, companies need to reassess what the future will look like when it comes to time-in-office, function of the workplace, productivity, and social aspects of work. For instance, according to PwC’s US Remote Work Survey — January 12, 2021, a disconnect remains between employers and employees as to the purpose of an office, with employers rating employee productivity as the top reason. This was followed by providing space to meet with clients, enabling employees to collaborate, and enabling company culture. Employees, on the other hand, said the number one purpose of an office is to collaborate, followed by accessing equipment or documents securely, meeting with clients or colleagues, and training and career development. Productivity did not even figure in their top four purposes of an office.
Obviously, productivity is important, but for employees, productivity and the office are not intertwined. They believe that they can be productive at home, because for them, being in the office is where they do non-headsdown work, like attending meetings.
As many of us have personally experienced, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the market’s demand to dramatically increase hybrid teams and locations. This includes co-located and remote teams, or the hub and spoke model. And today, as companies continue to figure out how their workforce will operate, they need to ask themselves key questions, such as:
- What cities should we be looking at?
- Should we be looking at individual metros or clusters of communities?
- If part of the workforce is going to be remote or work hybrid, what is essential for an office?
- Can we be flexible with in-office hours?
We’re in the midst of a great structural shift in how companies operate when it comes to workplace location. People want greater choice in where they live and work, and that means the hybrid model of work will most likely persist, even as our day-to-day life gradually resumes some sense of normalcy. With the location of work changing, business culture, productivity measures, and the physical spaces required need to be rethought.
There are many leading technology and financial services companies declaring that they will get their employees back to the office because according to their leaders that’s how innovation could be ensured. Some big brands that are influencers and trend-makers will succeed in getting their employees back into the office. They have invested heavily in building workplaces for productivity. However, other companies that till now couldn’t compete with big-tech and big-finance on salaries and perks, will now be able to do so if they embrace the hybrid model instead of following their lead.
Want to learn more on how you can deliver on the hub and spoke hybrid model to evaluate where, why, and how to source talent or open offices? Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.