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Planning Your Return To Office Requires Calculating Readiness

Author: J.P. Gownder, VP and principal analyst, Forrester Research

Leaders in some geographies — particularly those with high access to vaccines — are busy planning their firms’ return-to-office strategies. What this will look like has been the subject of debate. While the broad media conversation has been polarized — from “the office as you know it is dead” to “the hybrid office probably won’t last” — Forrester’s many client inquiries suggest that change is coming.

Forrester predicts that a majority of firms will adopt what we call a hybrid, office + anywhere workplace, a setup in which at least some employees can work anywhere they want two or more days a week while coming into the office on remaining workdays. Our research shows that a variety of employee experience (like flexibility, autonomy, and lessened commutes) and business benefits (like higher retention rates and long-term recruitment advantages) will accrue to companies that master this opportunity.

The Future of Your Workplace

While the broad trends are important to understand, what ultimately matters to leaders is the future of their own workplace and workforce. Vertical industry offers a first cut; the proportion of employees who can potentially work from home varies greatly. (Let’s recall the many frontline workers who remained on the job in-person throughout the entire pandemic). More than 75% of employees in financial services, IT, and corporate education services could work flexibly indefinitely, while fewer than 33% of those in manufacturing, healthcare, construction, or retail can do so.

But even within a vertical industry, there’s considerable variation. Leadership styles mean different CEOs will view anywhere-work options differently. And there are certain elements of readiness that determine how prepared any given company is to seize the opportunity appropriately. These include:

  • The basic questions you must ask about your potential readiness, such as how many employees can engage in anywhere work. Your answers to these might change over time.
  • Anywhere work can drive multiple organizational goals, but you must declare, track, and measure these with objectives and key results, KPIs, and/or other approaches.
  • Your organization needs to reach a level of technological maturity around key tools. The fulcrum here is the employee experience (EX): Technologies that “solve” employees’ problems but that are slow, onerous, suffer frequent outages, are hard to use, or don’t solve the problem completely undermine EX.
  • Our research reveals two cultural factors that contribute positively to anywhere work (self-efficacy and organizational efficacy) and two that contribute negatively (burnout and boredom). The more effectively your culture addresses these values, the more effective you will be at expanding anywhere work.

Seize the Benefits of Hybrid Work

Depending on how well your organization addresses these elements of readiness, you could be positioned to seize the benefits associated with hybrid work more quickly, or else you’ll realize there are investments still to be made before you can boldly redefine the workplace. Companies that score high on the readiness scale can consider, for example, giving more workers the latitude to work anywhere three or more days per week. Less-prepared organizations might offer latitude to specific groups of employees under more limited circumstances.

Ultimately, calculating your readiness can start a conversation among leaders and employees about the best path forward as we return to offices in some capacity. Use Forrester’s Anywhere-Work Readiness Calculator to assess factors such as the percentage of employees who can potentially work remotely and how technologies stack up in terms of collaboration and security. Organizations that do this right will be the most productive and empathetic, creating a workplace that drives deep employee engagement and harmony.


Author J.P. Gownder is VP, principal analyst at Forrester Research. Read more from Forrester here.

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