The boss has returned but the workers are staying at home
This is a commitment to Chesley Maddox-Dorsey in her role as CEO of American Urban Radio Networks that she has been working daily from the company’s office in Manhattan for the past nine months – before receiving her Covid-19 vaccine.
As the epidemic subsides and New York City reopens, Maddox-Dorsey is considering how to rehabilitate its workers, many of whom have become accustomed to working from home last year.
“I think it’s going to be a lot harder and harder than this,” he said, when asked if just getting a vaccine is enough to force employees to resume work in the office. Referring to fellow supervisors he said: “I think it’s probably hard for all of us to realize that no one wants to come to the office like we do.”
All over New York and other major cities, the superintendents have returned to the offices where, most of the time, they sit in their most powerful chair and favorite place. Yet statistics show that co-workers do not feel the same pull – whether it is due to health problems, lack of child care, or departure problems.
As of May 5, the “back-to-work” barometer published by Kastle Systems, a security company maker, only showed 16.3% of New York office residents, up 0.1% last week and just a few November points.
“They’re trying to figure out how to get them back, and who’s going to push them,” said Ruth Colp-Haber, chief executive of Wharton Property Advisors, about executives interviewing her about the needs of their companies.
David Rubenstein, chief executive of Rubenstein Partners, a real estate agent, agreed. “A lot of CEOs are back, and they want their co-workers to come back.”
At stake are the competitive landscape vision for the future, as well as the degree of flexibility that workers must have when choosing jobs and how to carry out their duties. Or, as Colp-Haber predicted in a recent letter to customers, “class wars could come to your nearest office about the amount of hybrid activity”.
The result is also particularly important for cities such as New York, which have built their wealth on office space, as well as investors who own these homes. If more people are working from home, the need for space may collapse and the space may be less. At the moment, rent costs are being forced, due to the amount of unnecessary space that companies are losing in the retail market.
This was not the first time the plague had slowed the flow of work. After the Black Death swept across Europe in the 14th century, leaving farmland devoid of agriculture, landowners were forced to pay good money and other goods to serfs.
In recent days, a number of companies have issued laws requiring employees to return to office. JPMorgan Chase became the first major financial company to launch a solid day, telling workers last month that they are very much looking forward to returning in July. (Probably not surprising because the bank is building a new 2.5m square-foot capital on Park Avenue). Blackstone, Goldman Sachs and others have been following.
In a recent letter to staff, Google Sundar Photosi’s chief executive predicted that 60% of employees would spend a few days a week in office, while 20% would be away permanently and 20% would be in office full-time.
IBM CEO Arvind Krishna told Yahoo Finance that he expects 80% of employees to pick up a hybrid, and that it could take a year or more to get things done.
Secretly, some regulators say they like to turn the tide but fear that doing so could lead to more skilled runners strengthening those who want to allow flexibility.
“I would say that the head of HR and the head of most companies are discussing this at the moment,” said Rubenstein, who believes most employees will follow the boss back to the office by September, if not soon. In the meantime, schools need to reopen – in the US and UK – and vaccines will be offered to anyone who wants to.
“I do not believe that a major change at sea will take place,” he said. “People will want to be with them as decisions are made and things happen.”
But Phil Kirschner, who led WeWork’s approach to the big companies, and here’s a job interview, sees big changes coming. The epidemic, he said, has only confirmed the radical change in the volatile work that has been going on for years – but which many senior executives have refused to accept.
“The desire for change is not new. “What has been holding us back is the managers who want to see the employees in front of them to make sure they are productive,” he said. “And now the bandage is torn.”
Even before the epidemic, power was changing as companies competing for talented young people entered a competition to use tools to help their offices entertain the new generation. In a world where high-quality coffee, yoga rooms, massage, caterers and outdoors now de rigueur, flexibility – being able to work remotely for long periods of time – is another factor.
“Companies need to work harder than ever to get them to work under duress,” Kirschner explained, echoing the sentiments of young workers: “‘I used to work in an office – now I don’t work. So you have to convince me why I should.'”
Nadir Settles, who oversees the 6m sq ft in New York office in Nuveen, has a similar idea. His company is considering money as a consolation in its offices. “Everyone who has the best space, who welcomes co-workers, is the one who wins,” he said.
Some are talking about child care and medical care. In New York City, where government regulations have come to the fore, some are discussing tax incentives for commuters.
Some jobs are more suitable for flexible jobs than others. A developer, for example, who is able to do a lot on their own – as opposed to a senior advertiser constantly interacting with others.
Like many executives, Maddox-Dorsey says it is willing to tolerate the post-Covid fluctuations but is concerned that the connection to the deal is needed to create a radio program and then sell it is difficult.
“In order to have instant answers with team members, you have to do everything at once,” he said. “So if you have people who are thinking at the beginning of the week on the day they come, it seems like we’re working hard to achieve everyone’s goals instead of having one goal as a company that we want to achieve.”
They also find that it is not fair to know who should be in the office and who should not. An older, more experienced and cooperative employee may not see the value of traveling long distances to make time for work or to take on more work at home. Even so, if they have young children.
But their presence can deter young workers, who benefit from working with them. “It’s a personal decision but what we as CEOs have to do is just look at a lot of decisions,” he said, “and sometimes strongly disagree with them.”