Tue. Apr 23rd, 2024

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What’s the real role of the office now, anyways?


What’s the office really for today anyways? Part tongue-in-cheek, but also quite serious, Forbes asked that question of a range of executives, workplace experts, academics and others to explore the shifting role of the office—that traditional home to cubicles, conference rooms and water coolers—in the post-pandemic work world. Yes, as you’ve surely heard a million times by now, it’s for “collaboration” and “connection.” But can’t that be done at a coffee shop—or at a nice occasional retreat by the beach? Or at least not every week on mandated Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, even if that’s when all your Zoom calls are scheduled?

The result was our story that dove into why, yes, the office still matters, but its role has shifted, and is likely to keep doing so even more. You can read the whole thing here, as well as our recent piece on the war over work from home and our conversation, excerpted below, with NBBJ partner Ryan Mullenix—as is typical, some great stuff got left on the cutting room floor. As always, there’s takes from our contributors on adjacent topics, such as why the office debate won’t end in 2023 or how to multitask when working from home. Hope it’s a great week ahead, wherever you’re working.


Six weeks after members of the United Auto Workers union started walking off the job at plants owned by Ford, General Motors and Chrysler owner Stellantis, the upheaval may be coming to a close. The UAW has reached tentative agreements with Ford, Stellantis and GM, but a majority of union employees working for each company need to approve the contracts. The Ford deal includes a general 25% wage increase that phases in through 2027, as well as including new electric vehicle and battery plant employees in the agreement. Reports say the Stellantis deal includes similar pay increases, as does the GM deal, which was reached Monday morning.

GM reported earnings last week, and executives said the walkouts had cost the company $200 million in earnings so far. In the most recent quarter, the automaker’s profits were down 7.3% compared to the same quarter last year.

UAW President Shawn Fain, who was elected to the post in March, has used a different set of tactics than his predecessors. He’s seen as much more brash, and has been using a more competitive approach to negotiations. By talking with each company individually, Fain pitted the three automakers against each other—and has used the selective striking model to show the different manufacturers what the union thinks of their proposals. He’s said his goal was to create “chaos,” something that may well be replicated by other labor unions.


Encouraging employees to return to the office has been a challenge for many workplaces this year, but Amazon is taking a stand. The e-commerce giant has empowered managers to fire employees who will not work in the office at least three days a week. The company issued the expectation that employees be in the office 60% of the time about six months ago, saying that collaboration is easier with everyone in the same place.

Working as a team may be different when people are all in the same room, but some employees may have a harder time adapting to a schedule in which they are expected to spend more time in an office. Working mothers may bear the brunt of problems that stem from a strict return-to-office policy. According to the Brookings Institution, 70.4% of women with a child under five are part of the workforce. And, according to a survey from the International Workplace Group, 72% of women will look for a new job if hybrid work is not an option.


Australian HR management system company Employment Hero just reached unicorn status, closing an A$263 million Series F funding round earlier this month. The company, which currently operates in Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the U.K., targets companies that have been doing HR processes manually, bringing them a more automated and digital solution. The company plans to use its newest funds to expand to more countries.

One aspect of Employment Hero’s system is its InstaPay function, which allows employees to request up to half of their monthly salaries before pay day for a fixed fee in order to address short-term personal liabilities.

“This sounds crazy, but we have the ability to restructure the global financial system,” cofounder and CEO Ben Thompson told Forbes.


NBBJ partner Ryan Mullenix.

Photo courtesy NBBJ

One of the more insightful conversations that didn’t make it into Forbes’ recent story on the role of the office was one with Ryan Mullenix, who co-leads the corporate design practice at NBBJ, which has designed workplaces for LinkedIn, Massachusetts General Hospital and Sanofi. Excerpts from the conversation below have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

After 3+ years at home, some people may be coming back to the office and thinking “where’s the change?” The time away must have led to higher expectations.

I think it did. The workplace as it was is going to struggle to draw people back to it. People couldn’t just come back to where they were before—again, because that spark [the office once provided] is being found elsewhere. One of the things we’ve been working on is what we call “delight per square foot.” There are important real estate metrics that we use in workplace design all the time. Cost per square foot. Person per square foot. We’d love to get to delight per square foot.

How do you actually measure that?

We’ve been working with a neuroscientist at the University of Washington for the last eight years. There are four factors we have currently, and we’re going to look to expand upon those as we learn more. But nature and daylight are two critical aspects. The other two we’ve been looking at in particular are variety and socialization. A lot of our workplaces have been—this is an overused term, but—a sea of sadness.

What are the unexpected problems employers are raising now that more people are back?

Many of us couldn’t have gotten through the pandemic professionally if not for Teams. If not for Zoom. If not for the fact that I can put on headphones [and make a video call]. The office isn’t quite ready for that. It becomes more like a call center in a certain regard, and that is something that absolutely has to be designed around. One of the big shifts is it used to be that the big conference room was the thing everyone wanted. That’s where everyone thought collaboration would happen. Most often it is impromptu. Most often it’s that I passed someone at the coffee bar and that happened to remind me to invite them to my next meeting. It’s all those things that are much more organic.

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek: What good is the office now?

I do think the office offers an organic energy that cannot be replicated through scheduling. Yes, I could go to a coffee shop. But I’m probably not going to stay there for eight hours. I could go meet someone at a retreat. But at its essence, coming into the office—especially for those who are more extroverted or who learn from watching—that staccato of energy and reflection is something I think an office provides in a much more human way, in a much less structured way.

One of the things that came out in the last few decades has been the idea that in a work environment—actually any environment—[humans] are much more comfortable in a place where we have prospect (we can see out) and refuge (a place that we can go to shelter ourselves). We want to be in that in-between. So that’s something that’s been happening in workplace design for a while, and again, it comes from neuroscience, and our years of evolution as humans.

How much did the pandemic shift people’s willingness to even ask about the purpose of the office?

I don’t think we would have had this conversation four years ago. I do think we would have had this conversation four years from now. It was coming. There was a recognition that technology was making advances. … But any time you have that quick interruption—that quick intervention [like the pandemic]—it forces you to rethink.


Last week, women in Iceland went on strike to bring attention to the gender pay gap and protest against gender inequality in the country. Women stepped back from all jobs—both professional ones in the office and caregiving at home.

10%: How much more men in Iceland tend to earn than women, far better than the roughly 20% gap seen in the U.S.

90%: Percentage of women who went on strike in 1975, the last time this type of action took place

‘The gender-based wage gap…is unacceptable in 2023’: Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said. She also participated in the strike.


Former Jamba Juice CEO and Author James D. White: The Keys To Successful Anti-Racist Leadership


The workplace can be culturally white-centered, limiting opportunities for people of color. Here are ways to refocus.

AI has the potential to change the workplace and how things get done, and employees want to learn how to use it. It’s important to get the strategy right for both AI technology and people.

There are as many older employees in today’s workforce as younger ones, and employers need to understand the value someone with decades of experience can bring to a company.


Overall college enrollment is up for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. Broken down into student types, however, some numbers have decreased. Which segment of the student population is declining?

New enrollees at public two-year colleges
Freshmen at four-year colleges
Graduate students
Those at historically Black colleges and universities

See the right answer here.

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The post The Real Role Of The Office, Amazon’s Hard Line On RTO And The UAW’s Brash Tactics appeared first on WorldNewsEra.


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