December 13, 2022
Suzanne P. Clark
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
In this installment of Path Forward, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Suzanne P. Clark hosted an expert discussion about how employers can keep workers happy, productive, and engaged in the new era of remote work.
Path Forward, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event series, helps business and community leaders find the answers they need to navigate a post-pandemic world.
How Employers Can Make Coming into Work 'Worth It'
Today, there is a great deal of debate about what the future of work looks like. Specifically, employers are trying to figure out whether workers will continue to work remotely, will come back into the office five days a week, or stick to “hybrid” work schedules (coming into the office a few days per week).
During the discussion, Todd Heiser, Principal and Co-Managing Partner and Director at Gensler’s Chicago office, said he sees the importance of the office changing but persisting, most likely in a hybrid format.
“I don’t think companies will give up office space,” Heiser said. “Through the pandemic, we’ve designed new spaces for our clients: high-performing, different spaces to support the new world of work…We are going to redefine what an office looks like. I don’t think people are going to give up space, I think they’re going to trade up for better space.”
Clark said that the employees she talks to want to make sure that it’s “worth it” if they come into the office on a particular day.
“What most people want is, if they’re going to commute in—if they’re going to put makeup on, shoes, and pants—they want it to be worth it,” Clark said. “Best practice seems to be coming together around core days—if someone puts that investment in, they show up and see other people.”
“Core days” are work days—usually in the middle of the week—when everyone at a workplace or on a team agrees to come in and collaborate. Heiser said he sees this alternative gaining traction.
“Tuesday through Thursday are days where people come together for their teams,” Heiser said. “Mondays are often days where people set themselves up for the week: company-wide meetings, marketing discussions…Fridays are probably gone for the world of work in an office space. People might spend those days to recharge, to be out with clients, or learning something new.”
Dr. Stephen Davis, distinguished service professor of Business and Economics at the University of Chicago School of Business, said that having social events was one way to help workers bond and form an attachment to coworkers and the company.
“It’s not just going to happen accidentally, “Davis said. “That might mean more conscious efforts to have social events during lunch or right after work. Or spending more time and company resources on getting employees together in a non-work setting, where the focus is letting them bond as human beings.”
The Upsides and Downsides of Remote Work – for Companies, Workers, and Cities
Hybrid work continues to have an outsize impact on our daily routines and the future of companies.
Davis said that some of the positive impacts of remote work are:
- Saving time, fuel, and money on commuting.
- Greater flexibility in time management.
- Workers being able to move to suburbs and access more spacious, affordable housing.
Some of the drawbacks of remote work are especially being felt by big cities, including:
- Less demand for commercial real estate.
- Declines in transit revenues.
Heiser said that the old amenities designed to lure workers back to the office like “free food” will no longer cut it.
“We’ve heard a lot about unlimited vacation, about shifting away from food and health clubs to things like height-adjustable desks for the home office, technology allowances, ways to work from home,” Heiser said.
Evolving the Right Approach to Remote Work Realities
At the end of the day, companies should avoid mandating new configurations of office space or blanket requirements to come into the office on certain days in favor of an ongoing dialogue with workers to find the right mix for the future of remote work, Heiser said.
“If you believe the next two to three years are going to be a ‘set it and forget it’ workplace—it’s not going to happen,” Heiser said. “The future is going to be about Beta testing, about digging into feedback from individual workers to understand what is really driving their performance and how they want to work.”
From the Series