A new survey from collaboration platform Slack says that 88% of UK desk workers are now back in the office at least one day a week; in fact on average, they are now there more like three days a week.
But given that the majority, 60%, are trying to be in the office when their colleagues will also be there, and are prioritizing formal customer or client meetings, as well as training, it’s surprising that once they are there they spend nearly 2 hours of the day video calls.
In fact, a big chunk (20%) say that they are actually spending nearly half of their working day - 3 to 4 hours - on virtual calls when on-site. A further 24% report they spend too much time in scheduled 30 minute video meetings that could have been a ‘quick chat’.
And that’s not the best use of the office, claims Slack’s Technology Evangelist, Karl Nicholson. He says:
Most people now go into the office for the sole purpose of being with their team physically - but the workers who want to do less remote working, and so are going into the office, often feel that it's not necessarily worth their time because they're wasting time doing things that they could be doing from home.
Doing all those Zooms in the office instead of from home also means they're ignoring their colleagues, when the sole purpose of them going into the office is to be with their team. They're spending at least two hours a day on video calls with people who physically aren't there.
The poll also revealed more on what people feel they can do best at the office versus working at home.
When it comes to so-called ‘deep work’ - the specific value-add tasks that knowledge workers are hired to do, like create marketing collateral, or coding, most people in the study (55%) say they think home has turned out to be the best place to be productive.
Over half (53%) also say they feel more productive overall at home - but a majority (65%) also miss deskside conversations when not at the office, with the same number of workers believing impromptu in-person workplace meetings are important for creativity and innovation.
Some 66% stated that such quick, desk side conversations are important for problem solving, and 79% cite them as important for an overall sense of belonging.
Finally, automation is seen as “an important employee happiness and productivity driver” for UK knowledge workers, according to the survey.
Over 3 in 5 (64%) say they would be “happier” if they didn’t have to do mundane tasks such as checking diaries to schedule meetings, and that productivity gains could be made if their employers invested in automation of such common tasks. Indeed, 59% want their company to invest in automation for completing mundane tasks, and 66% think automating parts of their job would make them more productive.
No clear answer
Nicholson says that the findings underline how “messy” the return to office is proving to be so far.
COVID-19 lockdowns have proven that, after a period of adjustment, desk workers can successfully work remotely.
Some people might be at home, some people want to be in the office, some people will be on a phone while travelling, and hybrid can mean different things to different people.
He also adds that now the problem isn’t about if we can all work online, which is proven, but that there is a problem of “commonality”. Nicholson explains:
If you go into the office to be with your team, in many businesses you don't necessarily know your team is going to be there. I hear a lot about how people come in on a Thursday because that works for them best because of childcare, but get there to find that their team isn’t in, or that they decided on a different day that week.
Trying to mandate that from the top down also falls short because it needs to be at an individual or team level as opposed a company mandate.
As a vendor selling solutions to solve these kinds of problems, obviously Slack has some ideas on how to make hybrid work better.
One of these is a way out of what it calls the ‘psychological trap’ of always scheduling Zoom meetings for 30 minutes, as that’s just a calendar default. Instead, it claims, firms could be creating short audio and video update clips which employees could digest at a time that is convenient for them.
It is also pushing its ‘Huddle’ feature, which it claims is a way to recreate - at least partially - those ‘water cooler’ moments by opening less formal online channels between colleagues.
These may or may not be a solution. But if we are to stick to hybrid, then the workplace for sure will need to find new ways of including people and maximizing their experience.
Such initiatives will also have to consider different demographics. It’s one thing for 25 year olds raised on SnapChat to feel totally comfortable in a mostly online world, which maybe won’t work as well for middle-aged (or older) managers who’ve spent most of their careers in a physical meeting or ‘travel to see customers’ culture.
That’s why - without endorsing Slack as a supplier - we like the idea of what the vendor calls a ‘digital HQ’ - which works just as well as a concept as a ‘level playing field.’ Nicholson said:
Leaders need to see where people work is irrelevant. Now, we need to create a digital-first experience, as most of the people interacting with our business is going to be through digital means - but that’s employees now, as well as customers, so we must create a digital employee experience that replaces what we used to get by getting everybody together physically in a building.
Regardless of who you are, what demographic or geography you sit in, your experience on that digital platform needs to be the same across the board. If you do, people are happier as they can work from a physical location and remotely. You need to help people do what's best for them with technology, to support them to do the work in the way that they need to do.
That makes a lot more sense than going to an office to be with people, and then spending hours talking on Zoom or Teams instead.