The pandemic brought along deep uncertainties, causing many businesses to struggle from working the previous ways. Naturally, Work from Home (WFH) became the new norm. Now, that the workforce has been inoculated, industries have begun calling the employees back to old ways, Return to Office (RTO).
Abbreviation born of the pandemic, RTO story encapsulates from battling morning commutes to planning children’s arrangements. The idea is to bring collaboration and work culture.
How effective is the RTO so far?
Bloomberg’s report, Benefits of Working From Office: Workers Back to Desks Just to Sit on Zoom Calls, states that employees are being called into the office to attend zoom calls with their colleagues sitting next to them. Workers are still finding that zoom meetings are the focal point of interaction.
Bloomberg’s report also states that since most team members aren’t going to the workplace on the same day, the whole point of “collaboration and developing a work culture” fails when the meetings are eventually happening virtually. There is a mark of detest among employees as they are seated next to each other on the same call leading to echo, making it hard to comprehend.
Besides the virtual meetings, the commute is a significant financial and mental strain, where the hassle still bears no fruit of in-person communication.
Luring with rewards: Best bet or bait
The New York Times (NYT) report, Welcome Back to the Office, Isn’t This Fun?, states that tech companies compensate employees’ happiness with food, concerts, and other perks.
Big tech giants are leaving no stone unturned to keep the employees filling offices and have made returning to the office mandatory (at least a few days a week).
However, Professor Adam Galinsky of Columbia University’s business school says, “These celebrations and perks are a recognition by companies that they know employees don’t want to come back to the office, certainly not as frequently as before.”
The global long-held belief that in-person collaboration is still better for fostering creativity, inspiring innovation, and instilling common sense of purpose came to a standstill, for many enjoyed working remotely and returning to the office-no wonder how fancy- sounds like a dreaded affair. However, a few still showed keenness on going back five days a week.
What do statistics say?
The NYT report shares insight into what employees want. Nick Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University who surveys 5,000 workers every month, said most wanted to return to the office two or three times per week. One-third wishes not to return to the office and prefer to remain remote.
Needless to say that the statistics point to the hybrid work culture.
What does the future hold?
While the companies that promoted work remotely, are still pushing the same format, the major companies such as Google, Apple, etc., are calling employees back. The CNBC report, “Return to Office mandates will soon be ‘very outdated’, predicts that the in-person requirements will become passe as per Anne Dean, who leads distributed workforce strategy at Atlassian, an Australian-based software company.
Eric Schmidt, ex-Google CEO shared his views on why in-office work is better, expressing the skill deficit to move virtual right away. Transitioning from an old paradigm to a new one requires time and investment.
“This conversation will seem very outdated as the next generation of leaders rises in the workplace,” she tells CNBC Make It, adding that “in the future, work is not a place. It can happen anywhere.”
Anne, however, didn’t rule out any in-office work and supported employees who would like to work in-office.
As younger generations rise through workplace leadership, Dean says, “digital collaboration natives won’t struggle using Confluence and Zoom and Miro and Slack altogether. This asynchronous format will be completely second-nature to them, just like chatting around the water cooler felt second-nature 20 years ago.”
With all that said, “we’re not pretending to have all the right answers” about the future of work, Dean says. “Anyone who says they do isn’t aware of the full story.”
The Global Legal Post, The future of the legal industry must be human first, points out that the legal industry has struggled with the adoption of the flexible option of working remotely since their model is fixated on billable hours than on the outcomes. This model is not sustainable as it takes a toll on the well-being of lawyers and the workforce.
The legal industry, especially the law firms in the future, should be innovating in this regard. Flexible work and compressed hours are all the options to consider.
Legal industry take
Reuters’ article, Cooley to let many attorneys work remotely under office return plan, states that Cooley, one of the big law firms, has decided that they will let many lawyers and staff decide whether and when to come to the office.
On June 1, the 1,500-lawyer firm will reopen its doors entirely, giving workers with remote-workable responsibilities an option of where to work.
Kirkland & Ellis is among the law firms expecting employees to be in the office three days per week.
On a memo note to Reuters, Joe Conroy, Chairman and CEO of Cooley, expressed “One size will definitely not fit all” and “there is something special about in-office interactions”.
The legal industry is known to hire talent for productivity, and the flexible work policies of current times have changed the whole perspective for legal talent hiring.
"This is a talent business, and we want to recruit and retain the very best people," said Kathy Pakenham, chair of Cooley's business department and partner in charge of the New York office. She further added, “Cooley has already created a hybrid open space model in several of its 17 offices, starting before the pandemic”.
While the legal industry is known to be change-averse, the hybrid work trend is the way forward. BigLaw firms are taking the lead and the change is for real.
In a nutshell
While businesses were forced to incorporate remote working without a choice, the present statistics indicate the hybrid (remote + office) is the way to go.
However, once the future workforce that can digitally collaborate seamlessly rises to the leadership position, it will shape the change.
The world has seen a major shift in the working culture post-pandemic. From working in-office to working remotely, the transitioning happened through technological adoption. Fast-forwarding to 2022, companies are asking employees to Return to Office (RTO) only to attend virtual meetings with the employees sitting next to them while giving them carrots instead of sticks to return in the form of freebies.
Current statistics point to the majority asking for a hybrid work mode. While the present generation is opting for the hybrid format, the future digital workforce will look forward to collaborating through technology as they rise to leadership positions and remote working is most likely the future. The legal industry especially law firms too needs an overhaul of their working policy and consider well-being over billable hours.
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