The Journey To Anywhere Work Is Really Just Beginning

Although it feels like we’ve been talking about anywhere work for over two years — and we have — the journey is really just beginning. But not everyone is embarking from the same starting point. We see a variety of companies:

  • Just getting started with return to office (RTO). The first two quarters of 2022 are seeing major companies from Microsoft to Google and Apple just beginning to implement their return-to-office programs.
  • Currently engaged in hybrid work. Plenty of companies sent workers back to offices part-time in 2021 — in some cases, not even pausing during the first Omicron variant surge. Yet few of these companies we talk to believe they’ve “solved” the hybrid-work puzzle.
  • Resisting anywhere work and alienating employees. About a third of US companies are trying to revert to pre-COVID-19 office norms, according to the Forrester/Human Resource Executive© Magazine Q3 2021 US HR Decision-Maker Survey. Some of them face stiff opposition from employees. Goldman Sachs has reportedly begun actively monitoring security card swipes to see which employees are returning to its five-days-per-week-in-the-office policy — and disciplining those who aren’t.

The Office Must Be A Valuable Resource To Employees

We’ve released a new report, The Anywhere-Work Preflight Checklist, analyzing the progress, challenges, and approaches companies are employing. While we predict that anywhere work is here to stay, we also point out the many headwinds facing companies as they try to operationalize employee-experience-focused RTO programs. Regardless of where you are today on your RTO journey, we believe there’s a much longer road ahead to making anywhere work work well.

We invite clients to read our report, but we have some additional tips to share with leaders navigating this journey:

  • RTO isn’t an end in itself. Driving foot traffic to the office shouldn’t be an end in itself; don’t focus on vague, ill-defined benefits purportedly associated with mere physical presence. Instead, make the office a resource to help employees further their goals. Did the office help an employee or team create value they couldn’t otherwise have created? Make the office an attractive destination, then trust that employees will know where they’re likely to be most productive. Strive to make the office a value-creating resource they can tap into as necessary.
  • Uncover employee challenges and barriers. Two types of barriers inhibit RTO: those outside your span of control and those within it. We remain (despite some appearances) in a pandemic, with uncertainty about safety levels and a likely new wave coming. Employees who are high risk or who have children under five or elders in their households may not be comfortable returning. Your vaccination mandate policy, however, is within your span of control. Analyze other barriers like high gas prices and childcare to understand why employees resist RTO.
  • Determine the circumstances under which value is gained. Thinking of the office as a resource leads you to ask key questions about under which circumstances employees gain value from the office. Consider:
    • Customer interactions. Can my office become a venue for customer meetings? What investments might make them better?
    • Collaboration. What types of collaboration sessions would employees find most valuable, and does the office offer technology tools to assist?
    • Technology. Which technologies does the office offer that aren’t available at home?
    • Socializing. When and how do employees tell you this would be valuable?
    • Roles. Which roles have jobs that lend themselves toward the production of value in a team setting? Which roles has the labor market designated as mostly remote?

We invite clients to read more in our report, The Anywhere-Work Preflight Checklist.

Be sure to check out our upcoming Technology & Innovation North America event where I’ll be presenting a session entitled Everything You Need To Make Hybrid Work.

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst on Forrester’s future of work team.