Bulletin Image

The BulletinApril 19, 2022

Is the future of work here?

Bulletin Image

The call to return to the office has gone out, but do we want to be there? Hybrid work might be here to stay writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin.

The call to return to offices may go unanswered.

Now we’re in orange – the Easter break providing a good change to reset – it’s expected that office workers will return to workplaces around the country, many for the first time since the delta outbreak in August last year. But after two years of remote working, people may not be as keen to heed the call, prompting Skills Consulting Group’s Jane Kennelly to tell RNZ that this may “actually dictate our future working style for years to come”. 

Hybrid work may overtake “working from home” or “flexible work” in our employment lexicon. 

Hybrid work is the splitting of your work time between home and office. Offices may now require a reason to exist beyond providing a place to sit and work, something people have managed to do quite well from home over the last two years without losing precious time to a commute.  CBDs may struggle without the return of pre-pandemic worker populations, while suburbs thrive, as detailed in this report from the NZ Herald (paywalled), which is part of a series called “The Great Hybrid Return to Work”. I myself am beginning a great hybrid return to work, coming into an actual office, after nearly four years of freelancing and working from home. I like the idea. I can work quietly at home in the mornings, hunched over a coffee, and then do an off peak commute to the Spinoff to actually speak to people and get a sense of what’s going on beyond my screen.  

Offices to stay but only used when it suits.

Victoria Mulligan drills into the choice employers are facing in an opinion piece for BusinessDesk about whether to demand that people return to the office because that’s what worked before the pandemic, or accept that opportunities lie in teaming up with workers to design the future of work. She argues the office won’t disappear but will instead be used for the right purpose – getting together to collaborate and a being place people choose to be – while new tools like Zoom for video calling and Slack for work messaging actually create a more equitable workplace by giving those who don’t ‘play the game’ or have loud office personalities, the chance to be heard better.

No change for the essential.

There is some irony in all this. The workforces we’ve come to label as “essential”, life stripped back to necessities during lockdowns, are not likely to benefit from this transformation. Those we praised and applauded are not being granted the luxury of reassessing their priorities or how they spend their time. It presents a fork in the road. In the Guardian last week, Julia Hobsbawm posited that where we once labeled ourselves as “white collar” or “blue collar”, the distinction may now be “hybrid have” or “hybrid have-not” worker instead. Some of us will enjoy a better work/life balance through hybrid work which may assist employers in retaining staff in a tight labour market, while for others, better pay and conditions remains the essential carrot to dangle.

Keep going!