The new PPP seems to be predicting, planning, and place. If the articles on return-to-office timelines and strategies are any indication – the snow globe’s been shaken and the snowflakes could land in any configuration.
Some plans are simple. At the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, we’re back in full force, in person. Our space is open and available for meetings and events. We’re scaling back on all-virtual events and testing the waters on in-person events, with virtual options. Our tenants and entrepreneurs are ramping up and our parking lot is filling up. On campus, we’ll be ready for an up-to-capacity, in-person fall semester. If you’re looking for a spot for your new business to land, or to hold meetings or events, we can help.
For other office-based businesses, planning a return to in-person, at-the-office work is complex. It’s difficult to snap back into the pre-pandemic work mode. According to surveys by The Conference Board, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit think tank that delivers trusted Insights for What's Ahead, lots of people would like to continue working remotely. In fact, that appears to be the preference for 61 percent of those currently working full-time from home. And, almost 30 percent of those folks say they’ll look for new opportunities if they’re required to return to the office. Yikes. What’s a business to do?
Some are thinking of ‘hoteling’ options, where office spaces are used on an as-needed basis and not assigned to an individual. Expect to see hybrid workplaces in which businesses have both an in-office staff as well as a permanent virtual staff. For many companies, this will be a new challenge as they work to maximize employee motivation, commitment and productivity across the board, regardless of where employees are physically located.
In a recent virtual event held by the Washington Post, Wharton School professor Adam Grant observed that virtual work has “benefits for productivity . . . [but] the big risks are collaboration and culture.” As we return to a new office environment, how will we maximize the positives and minimize the negatives?
Can we follow GM’s approach? As they struggled with the return-to-the-office question for 155,000 global employees, the message from CEO Mary Barra came down to two words “Work Appropriately”, leaving the policy flexible and evolving. It means individualized plans depending on the employee, the job to be done, and the makeup of the team. Maybe there will be more remote training. Maybe some employees will work permanently from home or run a hybrid schedule of in-office and remote work.
The decision to create such a program followed feedback from employees, many of whom have been working remotely for a year. GM conducted several surveys regarding how and where employees would prefer to work in the future, officials said. Such flexible and ambiguous policies are meant to empower GM’s leaders to take responsibility for their departments and employees.
“The learnings and successes of the last year led us to introduce how we will manage the future of work at GM, called ‘Work Appropriately.’ This means that where the work permits, employees have the flexibility to work where they can have the greatest impact on achieving our goals,” Barra said in a LinkedIn post.
In some ways, entrepreneurs have a jump on big companies. They’ve experienced being scrappy, firing up a virtual team, and working remotely. For startups, it’s both necessary and appropriate.
Diane Durance, MPA, is director of UNC Wilmington's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). The CIE is a resource for the start-up and early-stage business community to help diversify the local economy with innovative solutions. For more information, visit www.uncw.edu/cie
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