State of Work, Q1 2024

Rian Chandler-Dovis dives deep on the impact of return to office on productivity, communications on RTO mandates, and shifts in corporate real estate.

Beer & Brands
Cold Take #15
February 23, 2024

Cold Take: State of Work

Brand Federation Managing Partner, Rian Chandler-Dovis, starts a quarterly update on the state of work from new research and interesting development from brands.

Return to Office & Productivity

On productivity, culture, and working environments, much of the data is unsurprising.

  • Continued lack of evidence that a return to work has positive impact on productivity, especially in specific career fields that are most conducive to quiet, thoughtful work, like writing and computer engineering.
  • More flexibility equals more connectivity: Recent data from Future Forum found that flexible work employees feel more connected to their company values and direct manager than fully in person employees.
  • Schedule inflexibility can lead to productivity declines. Flexible work environments are saving employees enormous amounts of time. The average U.S. employee saves about 70 minutes a day by avoiding having to commute and prepare for work, which is split into both additional work and leisure.

When compared to workers with no ability to shift their schedules, respondents with full schedule flexibility report 39% higher productivity and 64% greater ability to focus.

Communications on RTO Mandates

Large, mature organizations and small businesses are having the hardest time flexing away from the work environments of yesteryear, and they are branding themselves as inflexible… or in one case… even a bit unhinged.

  • Internet Brands, the parent of WebMD, sent out a bizarre video of an empty office with people dancing that told workers “not to mess with them”
  • IBM sent an internal memo to their managers with a simple message: “Return to Office or Leave.”

And the result of these intense mandates is often a backfire:

  • Less diverse workforces: These policies have been shown to have a disproportionate impact on working mothers, who still (yes still in 2024) are carrying the large majority of household responsibilities. In fields like computer science, marketing and communications, which welcomed remote work from 2009 to 2019, working mothers’ employment rates increased. There was an almost one-to-one correlation: When remote work rose 2 percent, there was a 2 percent rise in mothers’ employment.
  • Top Talent, the highest paid individuals in the workforce, are demanding the most flexible work. A July 2023 report from McKinsey found that one-third of employees earning over $150,000 would quit their jobs if they had to return to the office full-time.
  • More specialized and sought after talent will be harder to get and keep. A study of developers by Stack Overflow from 107 different countries found that, for the third year in a row, flexibility is the most important reason why developers stay in a job (or look for a new one).

Corporate Real Estate Shifts

The biggest impact of the continued shift to flexible work can be seen in corporate real estate:

  • Continued change in leases and corporate space occupation.
  • Office Park ghost towns, according to a news story by Morning Brew.
  • Offices are at about half their prepandemic occupancy levels, according to a recent article from the New York Times.

But there are also an increasing number of legal complications to inflexbile work policies:

  • Increased awareness of the liability a company assumes when demanding employees commute to the office. 
  • Class-action lawsuit for requiring employees to work at an office and forcing resignation for workers with disabilities at X/Twitter via Insider.

The Takeaways

To drive productivity with employees:

  • Take into account their specific needs and role when designing any policies around work flexibility.
  • 15 minutes of face time per week with your manager still stands (Gallup Report)
  • Avoid making weird videos or archaic announcements, its just a bad look.

And what to do about corporate office space:

  • Downsizing/Coworking-like environments like Elephant Insurance in Richmond, VA.
  • Look into sharing agreements with like-minded companies, like we have at Brand Federation.
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Beer & Brands is Brand Federation's monthly podcast where marketing industry leaders, Kelly O'Keefe and Matt Williams, discuss brands, brand strategy, and tactics. Over beers.

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