Whenever the pandemic ends, will people really want to hop on the A-train ever again to get to work in some city office tower somewhere?
The pandemic taught us that cities are no place to be in the middle of a public health crisis. If there was ever a situation where hospital beds were running thin and people were dying in greater numbers because of SARS2, it was in a handful of large cities, led by New York in the U.S., Sao Paulo, Moscow, and every crowded city in India.
Some banks are in the process of selling off their commercial real estate in Manhattan. They don’t want to be there. Neither do their employees. Work-from-home productivity proved that, for the most part, they don’t have to be.
Sorry, boss…I won’t take the A-train. (In case you didn’t know where that saying comes from, here is Duke Ellington and his orchestra.)
Some 79% of the 9,.650 people surveyed in 19 countries said they don’t want to return to their workplace, according to a new survey conducted by business consultancy Accenture
The number does not mean that they all want to work from home, however.
The pandemic forced a rapid shift to employees working from home, with many expressing that they want flexibility in how and where they work moving forward.
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A majority of respondents told Accenture that they would like to occasionally work from what was referred to as a “third space” — a location other than their home or office. More than half said they would be willing to pay up to $100 per month out of their own pockets to work from a café, bar, hotel, or retailer with a dedicated space; anything but having to go into the city to work every day.
Dealing with ‘Third Space’ Workers
A third space is essentially a place that isn’t your office but also isn’t your home.
Oliver Wright, Global Head of Consumer Goods for Accenture said that companies will have to start providing greater flexibility to their employees and new hires and figure out how to do it without sacrificing productivity. One sure fire way will be through a blended strategy of in-person and work-at-home work hours, a big plus for those with long commutes.
(And a ‘save the planet’ from carbon bonus point. Check!)
“COVID-19 shattered long-standing assumptions. Many employees who have been able to work from home said they were happy doing so,” he says.
“This is not just about office-based workers. Consumer industry leaders are increasingly having conversations about distributed manufacturing models, where individual workers are spread across multiple locations, facilitated by remote monitoring and management,” he says.
Employers can hire anyone from anywhere, as they always could. But now, those new hires may not have to move to Shanghai or New York. The ramifications for that are unknown yet. Some major tech companies like Google
Moreover, companies can also offer less salary as a worker in Palo Alto or Manhattan needs a lot more than one living in a small town outside of Nashville.
And perhaps more interesting will be the opportunity to hire globally, no visa needed. I don’t know how that can work, or will work, but you can see the possibilities there to set up independent contractor relationships. That potentially disrupts the IT outsource model that the big Indian firms led by Infosys and Wipro have lived on for years. What if CVS could hire their IT guys in Bangalore instead?
Still, most labor requires people to be on-site, or near to it. Professional services that don’t have to actively fool around with networking hardware, or measure for curtains are the ones where workers will be most likely to work remote.
“Companies need to actively design these new ways of working,” says Wright, whose survey was specific in asking about this third option other than at home or in the office.
Of the countries that said they would “never” choose a third option, the Russians led the pack with 32.4% saying never. Some 28.4% of Americans said they would not choose a third option.
And of those who picked from a list of 9 places to choose from as their third option, coffee shops topped the list with 39.4% of Indonesians picking it, the most of any nation. Some 22.9% of Americans picked it.
Co-working spaces were liked the most by the French (25.9%), but Americans aren’t fans of the WeWork model (11.5%).
No one really liked the hotel option either. Spain was the most in favor (20.4%), China was the least (3.2%) and Americans came in with a 14.6% approval.
At this point, the question should have been: do you want to work from home…or take the A-train?
The desire to avoid going into the office has ramifications for business travel.
Nearly half (46%) of respondents told Accenture they have no business travel plans post-pandemic or will cut business travel by half, a huge blow to conference planners and the industry that depends on them.
Accenture said that the current outlook against business travel means any return to travel will happen mainly in the leisure market.
“The pandemic has forced ‘creative pragmatism’, especially for travel and hospitality firms grappling to find additional revenue streams during the crisis,” says Emily Weiss, managing director and head of Accenture’s global travel industry group. “Some hotels turned rooms into pop-up restaurants while others experimented with offering temporary office space to customers seeking a ‘third space’ to work.”
Judging by the survey, working from a hotel office space doesn’t seem all that enticing either. Unless, maybe, it’s at a resort, poolside, where I can bring my laptop by the cabanas at The Grove in Orlando. And the office is picking up the tab. Otherwise, most people with families and the housing space may prefer working from home over a third option.
Accenture’s Covid-19 Consumer Research tracks the changing attitudes, behaviors, and habits of consumers globally during the pandemic. The last survey was conducted between November 28 and December 10, 2020, with this last one conducted from February to March 5 in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and in the U.S.