The pandemic has brought many changes to the workplace, the most notable being more remote work. One expert says offices in the future will include a new C-suite executive focused on remote policies, more flexibility, and likely a smaller office footprint.
Having spent a year working remotely because of the pandemic, many associations are wondering what the workplace of the near future is going to look like. One expert says remote work will still be a key component of workplaces moving forward, with many working at home and some staff in the office.
“Many organizations have been forced to carry out remote work this year as the result of the pandemic and have found that, in many instances, remote work is very successful and very effective,” said Timothy D. Golden, Ph.D, a professor of management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute whose research focuses on remote work, telework, telecommuting, and virtual interactions. “As we move forward, companies are beginning to consider how to institutionalize this within the way that they work on a permanent basis going forward.”
In fact, remote work is going to be so much a part of life that Golden predicts many large organizations will add a C-suite executive focused solely on remote work.
“If you think of other C-suite positions, you have a chief technology officer, a chief financial officer, a chief diversity officer,” Golden said. “These types of positions are in charge of overseeing a range of functions within the area of their responsibility, so the chief remote work officer (CRO) would be much the same. They would be in charge of effectively overseeing remote work within their organization and ensuring that it is implemented effectively and work that is carried out remotely is successful.”
While smaller organizations might not add a CRO, they still will tackle issues that would be overseen by that position, including ensuring the right technology, staff training, and culture are in place to make remote work successful.
“It’s also about making sure to help managers understand how they might manage folks in office and remote workers simultaneously,” Golden says. “It also includes cross-functional types of issues between departments and coordinating remote workers among them and making sure that practices and procedures are standardized across the company.”
While remote work will be present, most companies will not be all remote. Golden said that research he’s seen indicates that about 25 percent of employees prefer to be in the office all the time, 25 percent prefer a completely remote environment, and that remaining half want a hybrid environment where they work two to three days from home and go into the office the other days.
“That has substantial implications for office space and real estate,” Golden said. “Companies need to re-envision their real estate strategy and re-envision the purpose of the office. They have to ask themselves: Why do we need to bring people into the office every day? If the answer is that they don’t need all of their employees in every day of the week, then they will not need as much office space to accommodate employees.”
Golden added that current leasing situations or the real estate market might affect whether organizations make changes now or later, but it’s crucial for decisionmakers to figure out as soon as possible how they want to work, so they can determine their space requirements and make a plan for reaching that goal—whether it be not renewing a lease, downsizing space, or subletting unused space to others.
“Office space has direct implications for cost savings,” Golden said. “Companies are always on the lookout to remain lean and competitive, so reducing space offers them an opportunity to save costs if their situation warrants it.”
As associations move forward in their remote work journeys, Golden said the key is to learn from their experiences, keeping the things that worked best and jettisoning practices that didn’t. “I think organizations will be taking a look at best practices,” he said. “They will be trying to understand what has really worked well in terms of managerial practices and support that the company has provided. Also, they’ll want to know what hasn’t worked as well, in terms of how they’ve supported their remote workers and what their managers have actually managed on a day-to-day basis.”
What is your association’s plan for remote work moving forward? Share in the comments.