Work 2021: Say goodbye to yesterday's work habits

If you expect everything to return to “normal” with work soon, you really need to get up to speed.

According to JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon, working from home “doesn’t work for young people” or “those who want to hustle. It doesn’t work for [the] spontaneous idea generation. It doesn’t work for culture.”

Wow. What can I say, but “OK Boomer!” And, I say this as a Boomer myself who's only a bit younger than Dimon. Unlike him, though, my mental processes didn't freeze in place sometime in the 1990s.

Your employees don’t simply want to return to the office. They are not—I repeat, not—coming back. According to physical security company Kastle, only 28% of US office workers are back at their buildings so far this year. And many of the rest of them have made it pretty clear in surveys that they’ll quit if you try to force them back into their old office cubicle.

A May Bloomberg survey found 39% of workers would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. For younger workers, that number was even higher: 49%.

Bigger companies have figured this out already. Apple, Facebook, and Google, to name the three biggest, are letting more of their workers keep working from home at least part of the time.

I saw this permanent shift to working from home coming months ago. Employees liked it. Companies, once they realized employees working from their kitchens and living rooms were more efficient, like it, too. Frankly, the only people who didn’t like the whole shift were micromanaging middle managers and people who hate change.

Of course, some bosses hated the idea because they fear their employees are working part-time while being paid a full-time salary. Or even—horrors!—working on side hustle jobs while on salary. But, as Dan Gillmor, professor of Journalism at Arizona State, tweeted: “If they're getting the work done, why is it any of their employer's business what they do on the side?”

Exactly. Most of us aren't running 20th-century factories anymore. Only fools think that putting in extra hours is a sign of a good worker. What matters is what they get done.

Don’t think you can replace those people either. Chances are you can’t. After over a year of the pandemic, instead of being desperate for a job, would-be employees are getting picky.

In particular, low-end jobs are proving hard to fill. You can blame “generous” unemployment benefits or a lack of affordable childcare. But the bottom line is the gap between low-end wages and profits, productivity, and executive pay has continued to grow at an ever-increasing pace. People are sick of it and they're no longer settling for minimum-wage jobs.

My first job paid a whopping $2.65 an hour. But that same money in 2021 dollars comes to $13.26 an hour. Is it any wonder that with today's minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour, people aren’t bothering to even apply for what are essentially poverty-level jobs?

For you, no matter what your business is, that means you’re going to have to start increasing wages.

Look at it this way, though; you can afford it if you get rid of your office real estate bills. You aren’t going to need that square footage when there’s no one to occupy it.

With a largely remote workforce, you can also start casting your net much wider for good employees. If your staffers have moved to Cary, NC; Fremont, CA; Sandpoint, Idaho; or other “Zoom towns,” why not look for new workers there as well? You no longer need to settle for the best employee within driving distance. You can get the best employee anywhere in the world as long as they have a good Internet connection.

That's what I did in 2001. I left Washington, DC, where I'd been Amtrak commuting to New York City for work part-time, and moved to Asheville, NC. I argued that I’d shown all along I could get my work done remotely and that as long as I had the Internet and FedEx could find me, I'd be in business. Furthermore, if they really needed me in Manhattan right now, there were three daily nonstop flights to the greater NYC metro area.

Do you know how many times I “had” to go to New York City? Zero. None.

And, that I might add, was when working remotely was a lot harder than it is now.

Today, you should embrace your remote workforce. Yes, things will need to change to make the most of it. But fighting it will only hurt your corporate bottom line. A business transformation tidal wave is coming, and you can either try to surf it or drown in it.

Me? I've already got my surfboard. Come on in. The water’s fine. 

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