Back To (Office) Work

I’m still sticking with the mantra “Stay at home to work, go to work to collaborate.” We aren’t even in a post-pandemic world yet and the way we think about “the office” continues to shift. These are essential conversations to be having right now.

Fred Wilson’s commentary in “Office Utilization” is worth a read as you think about whatever “back to work” means in your world. Here are some highlights:

Higher growth companies with physical offices are only seeing 20-30% office utilization rates. For these companies that need to hire, flexibility on work-from-home policies are key. The companies they surveyed are considering going fully remote and killing the office altogether and why not? If there’s little perceived value, it’s a cost-saving measure. Especially when growth is on the line.

His company (USV, which is not a startup in desperate need of hiring), has seen a 50% and higher office utilization rate. Their more established needs and the value they collectively place on collaborating is high. This is a sign of USV’s culture being both flexible and aware of the environment we’re all in. The value produced by the space makes even a low utilization rate worth it to them.

Back to the survey, of the 75% of companies saying they were going back to offices, those respondents expect a 65% seat-to-employee ratio. This creates another now all too familiar problem of what to do with the wasted space? The most common survey response was to start re-sizing office spaces to account for lower utilization, i.e. shrink the spaces and share more resources.

Wilson’s company is choosing to take an altogether different approach. I found this very, very intriguing. He says,

At USV, we are taking a contrarian approach to the office. We plan to build a new office that can seat 100% of our employees and we want to be able to host board meetings and other events frequently. We are also looking at other ways to invite the broader “community” to work and be at USV regularly.

But that does not mean we will expect our employees to be at the office every day. We understand that those with long commutes and children or parents at home need more flexibility and we have seen that providing that flexibility builds loyalty and commitment. So we will continue to support that way of working.

As is usually the case, Fred Wilson may be on to something before the rest of us. Times aren’t just changing, they’ve already changed. How we rethink the purpose and promise of the space we work from is a huge opportunity. It can change the ways companies hire and operate.

Do read Wilson’s full post and give some thought to whatever your situation is and why.

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