Australians are likely to be back in the office sooner than we think, according to management consultant Jon Williams, because no one really wants to miss out on being seen by the boss.
“I argue that we are going to go further back to normal than we currently expect,” he tells The Deal. “No one says they are going back to the office, but they will. They might think that they will hold strong and stay home while everyone is back, but it’s hard to do that. “Most CEOs are back in the office and most leadership teams are back because the boss is back.” Williams, co-founder of the firm Fifth Frame, argues that it’s the ad hoc conversations, the five-minute chat after a meeting, that are important when people want to get promoted and build their careers.
“That’s where they get side projects,” he says. “Working from home was fine (when everyone was at home), but when folk who want to get on, if they are not in the office, I think they are going to start getting concerned about the impact on their careers.”
He says business has operated fairly well this year when all staff have been working from home but it will become more complex as some employees return and others stay home. “At the most basic level, you should not have a Zoom meeting where half the people are in the office and the other half are in individual screens,” says Williams. “But this is really hard to enforce and that is the world that we are going to be in. So (the danger is that) we are going to slip into an uncomfortable halfway house.”
Williams says the pandemic has revealed just how outdated the concept of individual worker productivity is in the knowledge economy.
“Productivity is a measure for a past time,” he says. “It’s a real industrial era measure, it’s how many units you produce with a certain level of input. It kind of works in manufacturing, it kind of works in call centres where you can measure sales, it really doesn’t work in any sort of knowledge work.”