I recently asked a team of our advanced analysts to establish an over/under for how many U.S. employees will not be returning to the office full time in the future.
Here are some key facts I learned from them. There are 125 million full-time jobs in America. Of those, right at 50% -- or about 60 million -- report that their current job can be done remotely working from home. We interviewed a representative sample of them.
The research design included organizations ranging from accounting firms where all employees can work from home (WFH) to construction companies where 10% of employees are in corporate backrooms and can also work remotely. The sample includes everyone from any kind of organization who believes they can do their work from home.
Of those 60 million potential WFH employees, a staggering 30% said they would prefer to "never" come into the office during the week. Ten percent (10%) said they prefer working all five days in the office. The middle 60% want a blend of one to four days per week. The most common preference was two to three days in the office per week.
When we asked the "nevers" and the "blends" why they want to be at home, they said it 1) eliminates my commute, 2) improves my overall wellbeing and 3) offers flexibility to balance family needs or other obligations.
Within the combination of those three demands lies a very powerful force of human nature -- one that won't accept the traditional office routine going forward.
The research question was aimed at predicting the percent of people who anticipate working from home in 2022 and how many of their offices, desks and cubicles will be empty in the future.
Our over/under is 37% empty desks.
When the pandemic wanes and something close to "normal" returns, we conclude that there will be a 37% reduction of in-person days worked per week for those 60 million employees who can work from home. Put another way, a tall office building in a big city where all desk jobs can be done remotely -- on any given week -- will have 37% fewer desks occupied than it did that same week in 2019.
As a CEO, I believe there is more human energy and spirited collaboration to be found for employees in the office than sitting home alone. The right in-person culture creates superior individual development and results in the success of teams as well as innovation and customer success. This includes fewer errors and missed opportunities.
To CEOs, I would advise that you don't command them to come in. COVID-19 structurally changed the national workforce's relationship to work. There is a new will of the workplace.
We have to solve for how to better blend work and life. I don't think we have a choice. We already know that most stars will put higher wellbeing over everything else. How we experience life matters more than it did just 24 months ago.
The right in-person culture creates superior individual development and results in the success of teams as well as innovation and customer success. This includes fewer errors and missed opportunities.
Be thoughtful when attempting to create rules and policies. The most effective solutions will lie within figuring out what works best for each individual team member. Clear goals and short, weekly, zoom-based coaching will become more important than ever. This is a good thing because 50% of employees around the world don't know what is expected of them anyway.
If the new blend of life and work is handled masterfully, your culture of teams and managers will remain dedicated to your organization instead of becoming a culture of freelancers and gig workers.
You can bet on it.