It’s not going away. We are continuing to have a debate at the highest level in our industry on whether or not AEC firms should have a mandate that everyone work in the office or not. I can certainly understand and appreciate both sides of this big, big issue we are all facing. There are pros and cons of both postures.
There is no question in my mind that there are real benefits of having everyone together in one place. Individual relationships are bound to be better as there is much less potential for miscommunication. Creativity is probably enhanced when everyone is together. Training people is easier when you have everyone together. And of course, it’s fair to say that management feels like they can better tell if people are working or not when they are all together.
On the other hand, there is a cost to all of this. The labor pool is restricted. Not everyone may want or be able to work in that location for one reason or another. People who work from home have more control over when they work, and they spend less time commuting. Child care is a huge expense that they may be able to avoid paying for if they work from home. And don’t forget that the more people you have working remotely, the less office overhead and expense you will have.
So which is better? I don’t know. Our industry has it pretty good. We generally have really good people working for us – people who are principled and ethical and responsible. So I think we stand a better chance of being able to manage a largely remote workforce than some other businesses that may not have such great people.
Also, with the difficulty of recruiting people who have very specific skills as well as certain personality attributes, it seems like cutting off people who don’t want to live where we are and show up at the office every day may be shortsighted. However, there is yet another potential problem that comes from letting some people work remotely. That problem is morale for those who are forced to be in the office versus those who are allowed to work remotely. Resentment is likely.
On the other hand, employees who want to work remotely also need to face up to the reality of their decision. They may not be as visible and have the same opportunities as those people who do go to the office every day. Sorry if they don’t think this is fair. Maybe it isn’t. But let’s face it – we are all bound to have closer relationships with the people we see every day than those we only occasionally see on a Zoom meeting or communicate with via email. I think most companies aren’t honest enough to tell their people this fact, and instead ignore the issue and hope it won’t cause them any problems. But it will, especially the longer remote work situations go on.
It’s clear that many companies in our industry have not decided which way they will ultimately go on their remote work policies and practices. I’m glad it’s not a decision I need to be making as a business owner today myself. Whichever way you go, I encourage you to have a lot of frank and open discussion with all of your people about it. Know the pros and cons of whatever decision you make, and don’t kid yourself about the ramifications of either insisting everyone be there, or allowing anyone who wants to work remotely to do so.
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.