If you search for "working from home post COVID," the Google search engine will return about 7,170,000,000 results (as of Monday, June 22, 2020). That’s a lot of content on working from home (WFH).
Almost every week now, we hear that a company has decided to go completely remote until the end of the year. It is the case for Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Slack, Zillow, Palo Alto Networks, Box, and even Sagicor - The Caribbean's most prominent insurance provider. We have noticed that all this noise on WFH news coverage implies that the office is going away and that we are all going completely remote in a post-COVID-19 world. But are we?
What is the future of the office? What is the future of remote work? What are the privacy and security issues that companies will face post-COVID? How can businesses get ready for all of it? To explore this issue further, we interviewed a few executives and HR leaders from diverse industries, and they all agree on one thing: The office is not going away.
5 Reasons Why the Office Is Here to Stay > Insights from CEOs and HR Leaders
I. A physical office is a strong signal for prestige, branding & trust
According to Dmytro Okunyev, founder of team-chat software maker Chanty, “a physical office is a sign of prestige, a way to portray a business as successful to prospective clients and competition.”
Nelson Sherwin, HR manager at PEOCompare, a professional employer organization broker, adds that clients want to see a physical office not just for branding but because they have some sort of bias and mistrust toward a fully remote company. “Clients typically want to come in and visit, have in-person meetings, and basically vet your company," said Nelson, “and they can’t do that through a Skype call.”
James Jason, HR manager at the brokerage firm Mitrade, confirmed that no matter how effective working from home can be, customers and other stakeholders need a professional space where they can visit without feeling like they are infringing on anyone’s privacy.
Additionally, according to Allison Schworn, HR Director at office furniture manufacturer Poppin, for many, a physical office is not just recommended; it is a need. “We have found that customers want to see physical products in person to test them out,” said Allison.
And Katherine Stone, brand director at architecture firm Cooper Carry, highlighted that "A physical office is much more than a place for productivity, it's a place where people interact with the company’s mission and soul. In other words, offices are the physical manifestation of a company’s brand,” said Katherine. "
II. Social interactions are hard to replicate in a fully WFH environment
Aristotle once said that "Man is by nature a social animal." This statement remains true even in the digital age. Though technology is a great asset, “nothing substitutes for personal connection,” said Ashley Monk, owner of IT Media, a boutique digital agency.
Amie Devero, Managing Director at BeyondBetter, an executive coaching and management consulting firm, added that while new technologies enable replication of the basics of office life, many human interactions get lost in the process. "There is a tremendous amount of employee and social development that happens through informal and unplanned interactions," stressed Amie. She explained that this could be “interactions made in the break room, an overheard conversation between members of a team you aren’t part of, and the body language we see when team members react to someone else's remark." Amie concluded that while these interactions can seem inconsequential when they are taken individually, they can add up to "a vast collection of experience, learning, and better social relationships."
Chris Chan, Founder and CEO at event management firm 3C Strategies LLC, agreed with Amie’s remarks. “With no breakrooms or coffee runs, we miss an essential aspect of the work environment in the building of interpersonal relationships on a casual level,” said Chris. "And while people are OK now, it’ll get very isolating for those new people entering the workforce who don’t know their fellow employees and don’t have a casual way to get to know them from an office setting.”
Bruce Hogan, CEO of technology research firm Software Pundit, further emphasized this social need. “Interacting with team members in-person helps build bonds,” said Bruce. “Without the office, I do not believe that individuals would get to know one another as well.”
III. Innovation & Employee Development Could be Better in the Office
“At Splashtop, we have been fortunate to see a tremendous increase in the team's productivity, and everyone on the team has been working extremely hard to provide their best work," said Mark Lee, CEO of Splashtop. Just recently, we published results of a survey that revealed an increase in productivity for the majority of the workforce currently working from home. However, this productivity can come with tradeoffs when proper measures are not put in place to enable employees to both develop and work productively from remote settings.
Christian Giordano, President of Mancini Duffy—a 100-year-old NYC tech-first architecture firm that is working closely with their clients to reimagine what the future of the workplace will look like—stressed that “Video conference calls or screen sharing cannot replicate the unexpected office encounters that spur creativity and innovation.”
That’s because "the best business ideas and operations are [often] done in-person on the fly,” claimed John Cushing, CEO of mnAI, a UK-based AI-powered financial deal-flow search engine.
3C Strategies’ CEO Chris Chan might have an explanation for this decrease in creativity and innovation. “Working from home leaves us sticking with the familiar and staying within our normal confines, reducing our inclination to step out of our comfort zones and routines, which can hamper innovative thinking and ideation.”
Brian Robben, CEO of digital marketing agency Robben Media, added that the best training and mentoring also happens in person: “If there's no office, these people are stuck learning from video calls and emails, which is not the same.”
Benjamin Walker, CEO of Transcription Outsourcing, stressed that it can also be hard to decide whom to promote virtually. “If your boss goes back to the office, you should also probably go back to the office, because being out of sight permanently and out of mind could easily allow someone else to get the promotion you were in line for." said Ben.
IV. A Mixed View on WFH, the Office, and Mental Health Risks
When a company goes fully remote, the lines between work and off-work become very blurry. Amie Deverro from BeyondBetter said that this is due to a sameness of living, working, sleeping, eating, and waking in the same environment every day, which leads to mental stagnation.
Why? Amie explained that going to an office provides a new stimulus: “Whether gained on the train, in traffic, in the office, while walking to lunch or seeing new people in the elevator, our brains create new neural pathways when they get new input.” John Rampton, CEO of Calendar, added that a physical office helps maintain some type of work-life balance and that for this reason, his team is very excited to get back to the office.
However, one could also argue that WFH can actually help with mental health: less time spent in traffic, reduced distractions during the workday, staying out of office politics, and access to a more comfortable work environment. This suggests that it would all depend on the type of work involved and whether employees are extremely isolated (live alone?), introverts, or extroverts.
V. Implications for Security and IT Infrastructure
The office is not just about interacting with coworkers; it's also a physical location where many businesses keep their hardware, servers, and IT machines. It is the backbone of the IT infrastructure for many companies. "It would entail a lot of work and money to move the entire thing just to accommodate a fully remote work-from-home setup," said Jack Wang, CEO of Amazing Beauty Hair, an e-commerce store of premium hair extensions and accessories.
There is also the digital security and infrastructure reliability component to consider, explained Camilo Barrero, Senior Director of Operations Technology at Ontrack, makers of workplace health tracking solutions. “Even with high-speed Internet at home and access to company VPNs, some offices provide technical infrastructure designed specifically for security protocols or to meet certain technical," said Camilo.
To this conversation, Nancy Sabino, CEO, and co-founder of leading IT managed service provider SabinoCompTech, added that unpredictable internet accessibility, bandwidth, and security are concerns when employees are working from home. And according to CJ Xia, VP of Sales at antibody manufacturer Boster Bio, data shows that hackers are targeting smart home devices, and Wi-Fi could be the center for them to attack office assets.
"Ensuring that employees have the right amount of access they'll need to be productive requires that the internet and other remote tools for employees’ homes be securely and properly managed," said SabinoCompTech’s Nancy.
So, what’s the conclusion on all this?
Despite the valid concerns mentioned above, a growing number of people still report wanting to go completely remote. In a recent workforce survey by IBM, 75 percent indicated that they would like to continue to work remotely at least occasionally, while more than half—54 percent—would like this to be their primary way of working. There are many other surveys out there making similar claims, with the majority of these surveys claiming that 60% of the workforce want to go remote. But what about the other 40%? Amid all these claims, it can be hard for businesses to decide what would work best for them.
That’s why David Hulsen, CEO and co-founder of RFP360, makers of software solutions that help organizations request information and respond to requests, surveyed his employees to find out what they wanted. His findings? People still want social interaction in the workplace, but this does not mean they want things to go back to the office as usual. "This means that our expectations for the office are evolving and that we have to both include remote workers as well as offer a social space for people to interact in person," said David.
To this, Splashtop CEO Mark Lee added that “the work-from-home genie is out of its bottle—but despite the need for a physical office, companies should not be enthusiastic about cramming it back in the bottle, even if they could.” Additionally, added Mark, “while there is no denying the benefits of a physical office, there is also no denying the amazing benefits of working from home: reduced operational cost, access to a global talent pool, the ability to attract digital nomads like the Generation Z, a reduction of wasted time in traffic, an increase in productivity from reduced work disruptions, a smaller carbon footprint, and business continuity.”
What does this mean for the office and the future of work and the questions we asked above? It means that we are moving toward a hybrid office: A workspace where remote and physical work environments complement each other to provide the best of both worlds: life balance for employees, social interactions, robust security, super-charged productivity, and reduced cost for companies.
And If you are ready for the hybrid office, Splashtop can help. As a platform supporting tens of millions of users, we enable organizations to embrace the modern way of working—securely and efficiently working from anywhere—to help organizations across various industries create a productive and more empowered workforce.
Get Ready for the post-COVID world by learning how to set up your hybrid office for a partially remote workforce.
About Splashtop – Your Partner for A Flexible Workforce
Based in Silicon Valley, Splashtop Inc. delivers best-value and best-in-class remote computer access and collaboration solutions. Splashtop remote access desktop services enable people to access their apps and data from any device, anywhere. Splashtop remote support services allow IT and MSPs to support computers, mobile, industrial equipment, and the Internet of things (IoT). Splashtop on-demand support solutions enable support and help desk teams to remotely access computers as well as iOS and Android devices to provide support. Splashtop collaboration services, including Mirroring360 and Classroom, enable effective screen sharing, one-to-many, across devices. More than 30 million users enjoy Splashtop products. For more information, visit splashtop.com.