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Are we all there any more?

My dad had a lot of sayings that he would toss out when we encountered strange people. Not all would pass the “politically correct” language of our day but they were funny nonetheless. One of my favorites was when he would refer to someone he thought was crazy. He would refer to that person as “not all there”.

There seems to be a lot of people that are “not all there” lately and I think as business people and agencies, we need to take a quick look to make sure it is not us.

We have to admit that 2020 and the pandemic certainly changed the way we did things in the workplace; or NOT in the workplace. According to recent research, we were 13% more efficient while working in our underpants and just zooming stuff, but is that the way we should continue?

We all learned a lot during the pandemic. We learned to tolerate our customer’s dogs barking, the poor use of Zoom backgrounds by our boss that made him look like he had a serious head injury and we all learned how to tell our kids to shut up without sounding or looking like a crazed serial killer on screen.

We also learned that we could pocket a bit more money without the fuel it takes to go to the office and it was much cheaper to eat lunch with the refrigerator right behind us. But what did we lose?

According to the research, we now know that there are reduced opportunities for collaboration and networking, reduced face-to-face interaction with managers and there are definitely long-term effects when you consider that remote workers are half as likely to get a promotion as their colleagues that remain in the office.

We have seen many businesses entering the post-COVID world with the shortened office week, choosing to have employees only work in the office 2 days or 4 days in the office while sharing the remote work the rest of the week. The question then is, how many days in the office are enough? How do we balance the need for interaction amongst colleagues and management with the flexibility and lower costs of remote working.

The Internship (2013) with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson

If we take a lesson from the successful, we have to consider that Google is adamant about their employees being IN the office. No if’s and’s or but’s. This tech giant has won awards for its open culture and without them, remote work during the pandemic would have been impossible, but their attitude is not to hang onto that arrangement, in fact, last September Google said it would reduce the pay of its US employees choosing to work from home permanently. The reduction was estimated to be almost 25% in some cases.

If Google, who is perhaps the most liberal and easy of office cultures went this route, imagine what a conservative management structure would be like. While we proved during the pandemic that we could work remotely, there are a lot of good arguments for wanting everyone in the office and managerial style is definitely determining this. I myself would have trust issues immediately if all my employees were working remotely. How would I know they were really working? What is standing behind them when they are on a Zoom call? Other than end of the year reports and the actual money count, how do I know they are not moonlighting half the day I am paying for?

For decades concerns about innovation and productivity have been cited as reasons workers must be in the office most of the time, despite research that indicates there’s no reason we need to be in the office every day to maximize the benefits of collaboration. The lived experience of the pandemic has definitely changed some minds, but not all of them.

The bottom line is that there are no real answers for everyone. Each business has to make decisions on its own considering clientele expectations, customer service, span of control, management style, expected results, optics and trust.

I am personally torn. While I have no difficulty with a business that does all its business on the phone calling me, I struggle when someone tells me that I have to wait for information until they “get back to their office”. I am one of those people that wants what he wants when he wants it. If your company has always been set up to deal on the phone, then it is quite possible that I have no idea all your employees are working remotely and it does not affect me at all, but it takes very little time for me to tell when someone does not have files available to them or that they have to get something cleared by a manager that is nowhere near them.

I recently had to get answers to complete a proposal. When I called the company, a familiar voice was on the other line. After small talk I began to ask specific questions about the product and the response was, “I am not sure on all that but when I go to the office, I will get those answers for you when I can physically put my hands on those.”

I had no idea what that meant. Would that be today? Tomorrow morning? Would it be next week? Upon asking, the rep explained that he only works in the office on Fridays. It was Tuesday. While I am loyal to the companies that I deal with, this caused a huge psychological stain that will be hard to remove. I felt that my urgent need was being ignored to accommodate for another company’s employees to be comfortable or for them to save money. I no longer felt important and had a weird sense of being trapped in the pandemic again. The old anxiety flared, a small amount of anger, but mostly concern. Is this going to be the new normal for the next few years?

We all suffered during the 2020 pandemic, and I believe we all felt similar anxiety and angst. We attempted to stay afloat, stay ahead and to continue to satisfy our customers but often times we ended up having to postpone progress because of supply chain and remote workplace cautions. I am not ready to make that a lifestyle. We all need to consider that customer service is the most important thing in business right now and as we make decisions regarding whether or not we buy new and larger dress slacks that fit our pandemic-era figures so we can go in to work or we remain in our pajamas praying to the Greek god Zoom, we need to be considering what we look like to our customers and whether or not we are building confidence or risking it all.

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