Back to the Future of Work: Three Predictions for Productivity in 2023

A new model of where and how to work is emerging and it hinges on learning from past mistakes.

Bloomberg News

December 29, 2022

4 Min Read
Office buildings in a city

(Bloomberg) -- What will the workplace look like a year from now? The snow globe of work has been undeniably shaken to its core since the arrival of Covid-19. And the swirling mist is far from settled. But one thing is clear: The working assumption that office life can “go back” to what it was before 2020 is just wrong.

Three out of every four workers say that working hybrid is now non-negotiable for them. The coming year will see a return of a kind for the office, but one which is organized in a very different way. Here are three predictions for a healthier, happier and more productive workplace.

An End to Flex-Shaming

Early in 2022, the British HR expert Gemma Dale coined the phrase “flex-shaming” in a LinkedIn post. It captures well the bad faith some leaders showed to workers who aren’t physically in front of them. Among the most famous is David Solomon of Goldman Sachs who in 2021 called working from home “an aberration we’re going to correct as quickly as possible.” In October, Solomon told CNBC that about 75% of its people were in the office on any given day of the week pre-pandemic and now it’s about 65%. Even if bosses think they can impose their will, legislative changes around the world are favoring flexibility. Over a billion people from Greece to Thailand are already being affected by changes in the law to facilitate remote or hybrid work. What matters is creating a culture of trust and transparency between bosses and employees to reach solutions, not as dry policy but by mutual agreement. There’s no place for flex-shaming in 2023.

Related:ITSM Productivity Challenges Swell in Hybrid Work World

Softening Hybrid’s Hard Edges

This is not to say that hybrid work is a picnic. Recent global data from property consultancy JLL show that compartmentalizing between office and home is a major problem. Some 25% of hybrid workforces feel socially isolated and 59% expect wherever they work to pay attention to their health and wellbeing. Anxiety around social cohesion and productivity in hybrid offices is gaining traction: Marc Benioff, the founder and chief executive officer of technology firm Salesforce Inc., who also sits on the board of the World Economic Forum, recently told a company-wide Slack forum that new hires weren’t being productive enough, and asked “are we not building tribal knowledge with new employees without an office culture?”

Joanna Swash, group CEO of the call answering and live chat company Moneypenny, who has built a pub in her Wrexham headquarters in Wales to make her office as attractive as possible nevertheless  told me on my Nowhere Office podcast that “I’m a big believer in the office, but I'm also a big believer in wherever somebody's working, it's got to be the right environment for them.”

Related:Will Monitoring the Workplace Improve Productivity?

In other words, iterating workplace by workplace is the only way forward. Speaking recently at the Global Drucker Forum in Vienna Frauke von Polier of German manufacturing group Viessmann, voted European CHRO of the Year 2022, said that piloting changes for as little as three months or as long as a year should become the new normal until things settle down.

The Workplace as Social Space

In a recent LinkedIn post von Polier said: “How do you ensure that your culture is reinforced? Well, you start from the top and serve food to the people...and of course, dessert must be for free!” Since joining Bloomberg Work Shift as a commentator, I make a point of coming into the London office frequently to check in with colleagues and the elevator comes to the same floor first. It’s called “The Pantry” and is designed as a social hub for meeting, snacks, hot drinks and exchanging face-to-face contact before people continue on to workstations or meeting rooms. The Instagram @bloombergpantry is labeled “where our purpose & our people meet.”

Although data shows that 84% of the reduction in office space is associated with hybrid working, the repurposing of both offices to be more social, plus an investment in the experience of work, is growing. The US Office Occupier Sentiment Survey from property firm CBRE  shows that 36% of leaders are curating workplace experiences and events as part of their strategy to create community and increase presence in offices. I expect this percentage to grow. People need a reason to come to a place which goes beyond mobile technology they can access from anywhere. That reason is simple: Other people.

While the base of work’s snow globe has shifted from place to person, we all do need to work and meet somewhere. Here’s hoping 2023 is the return of the office in its new, improved form.

-- Julia Hobsbawmcolumnist for Bloomberg Work Shift

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