CIOs Ponder If They Should Ever Return To The Office

The Covid-19 virus means the workplace will never be the same
The Covid-19 virus means the workplace will never be the same

Image Credit: guccio@文房具社

The person with the CIO job realizes that someday the Covid-19 pandemic will release its grip on our lives and we will return to the workplace. The question is: Will there be an office to go back to when this is all over? The changes the business world is considering offer a radical rethinking of a place that is central to corporate life. There will likely be fewer offices in the center of big cities, more hybrid schedules that allow workers to stay home part of the week and more elbow room as companies free up space for social distancing. Smaller satellite offices could also pop up in less-expensive locations as the workforce becomes less centralized. What do all of these changes mean for a CIO?

Say Goodbye To Old And Hello To The New

The modifications that many CIOs have been making could have a profound impact on millions of workers who defined their work lives around a daily trip into the office. Employees would gain flexibility, but they might miss the temporary respite from domestic responsibilities and exchanging ideas in more impromptu ways. Big companies would save on real estate costs, but they might struggle to outbid smaller companies for the best talent if traditional office perks like free food and bike storage are no longer as essential as they once were.

The desire for a new definition of the traditional office is driven in part by the shrinking economy, as companies look for new ways to cut costs during a downturn that is expected to be the worst since the Great Depression. Many executives also point to the success of an unprecedented work-from-home experiment, and how little productivity appears to have been impacted after millions of employees in technology, media, finance and other industries have been forced to work remotely for months.

This doesn’t mean urban offices are disappearing anytime soon. Leases are hard to tear up, and few companies want to ditch the office altogether. There were also other periods where the end of the center-city office building was wrongly predicted, beginning in the latter half of the 20th century as some companies decamped to suburban office parks and following the shock of 9/11. Each time the centralized office building proved to be surprisingly resilient.

What’s Next For The Office?

Many who are attached to the real-estate industry still say there is no substitute to having all employees under one roof. The person in the CIO position realizes the importance of information technology. One of the most important aspects of American business over the last couple of decades has been the establishment of firmwide cultures—the idea is that having the right firmwide culture can make your company successful. It is unclear how you can establish a culture among people who are only together a few days a week.

CIOs are re-evaluating their real estate needs in the era of Covid-19, asking whether a decentralized workforce might cut costs. Achieving that goal might be easier in certain cities where you can get more space for your money and enough excess square footage is available to let employees spread out safely. In the last decade, corporations have tried to reduce their office space by squeezing in as many employees as possible on their floors, but social-distancing rules make that increasingly difficult. Now, many companies say they will allow more people to work from home and restructure office floors to allow for greater spacing. Companies typically spend 2% to 3% of their revenues on office space.

There are multiple reasons why some companies might resist an outright retreat from the office. While many jobs can be done remotely, creative types often benefit from being around others and having all employees in one place makes collaboration easier. Some companies see big offices as a way to safeguard sensitive information and keep an eye on their employees. Certain employees are also more dependent on the culture and capabilities a centralized office can provide. Stock traders, for example, depend on the type of high-speed internet that can’t always be accessed from home. And younger employees often need that face-to-face interaction to build a network and advance in their careers.

What All Of This Means For You

The arrival of the Covid-19 virus has changed everything. CIOs who used to go into the office and interact with their teams have been working at home lately and only interacting with IT department members via video conferences. We all realize that the virus won’t be here forever and when it finally goes away, we’ll be faced with a big question: should we return to the office?

Having the IT department work from home was the right move while the virus raged across the country. However, the modifications that have been made may be permanent. Employees like the flexibility of being able to work from home. Companies may save money if they don’t have to reopen their offices, but many of the things that made the company attractive may no longer exist. The economic downturn has made many companies seek ways to cut costs and closing the office is one way to accomplish this. Offices have strong staying abilities and they probably won’t all go away anytime soon. A key feature that the office provides is the establishment of a firmwide culture. Even after people return to the office, spacing may be an issue. CIOs need to remember that there are some jobs that cannot be done remotely.

The world as we knew it has changed. CIOs are wrestling with the challenges presented to them by having their entire IT department start to work from home. The Covid-19 virus will eventually go away, but should CIOs have their workforce come back into the office? It’s becoming clear that the answer to this question is not going to be black or white. Rather, in the future we’ll be living in a new world where there is a mix of the old and the new ways of doing business.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that CIOs should make coming back into the office a personal choice?

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