Does place matter?
It’s a time when one-time office workers are (probably) virtual for another few months, and companies debate whether to keep their IRL spaces post-pandemic. Plus, it’s easier than ever to hire the best talent from wherever.
So, as you dare to think about where you might be in six months, does it matter where a current or potential employer is based, at all?
When I’ve asked this of local technologists and other professionals in recent weeks, some have said no, emphatically. Others can’t wait to get back to offices. (One from Baltimore who was in favor of them gave this delightful anecdote: “As a creative services professional it’s hard to bounce ideas off Apollo the Gordon Setter, although he is eager to help — for a treat, of course.”) Yet the jury is still out: Most said there are pros and cons to both.
At the same time, we know that for some nonprofit orgs, providing place-based services is integral to mission and foot traffic is an important part of community reach. For others, eliminating the expense of a central office could free up a significant portion of the yearly budget to better fund programming or expand staff.
For me, at least, it’s a complicated philosophical question: Who are we outside of place to ground us?
Simply put: It’s complicated.
“It’s complicated is exactly right and there is definitely no ‘one size fits all,’” CBRE First VP Rija Beares told me recently. The Radnor, Pennsylvania-based pro is a part of the Technology and Media Practice within the national real estate firm, which recently published a report on future-of-work trends. It reflects much of what we’ve heard in our reporting [at Technical.ly] over the past few months: Employees prefer, and expect, a hybrid of in-person and remote work moving forward.
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“Distributed workforce is amazing for companies that are located happily in one city but need to augment their workforce with high-tech labor from another market,” Beares said. “Remote work is not going away. Offices have to be magnets for talent and serve a purpose — be that event or activity focused.” (Here’s an explainer on the difference between distributed, remote and virtual workforces.)
Beares also noted an important challenge: Younger employees are less likely to get the hands-on support and camaraderie they need to thrive when they’re not seeing their managers and peers face to face.
“Gen Z is missing out on a lot of the acumen, information transfer, culture and rapport that is built by being with colleagues in person,” she said. “The first of them are in the workforce and some have moved to new cities and there isn’t a great way during this pandemic for them to meet people via work happy hours, gym time, office face-time. It is a struggle. There is always the allure of working from some gorgeous remote work locale instead of from a stale office, but the reality of that for entry-level workers is slim for a myriad of reasons, and most don’t want to.”
I heard something similar from ID.me CEO Blake Hall when I interviewed him about his McLean, Virginia-based company’s $100 million Series C last month.
“We have a really strong office culture,” said Hall, an Army vet who cofounded the company in 2010. ID.me has plans to bring on more than 1,000 new employees in the Northern Virginia area by the end of 2021.
“Remote work is great, and it helps you attract the best talent, and we certainly want to do that,” he said. But “especially for folks who are younger in their career, there really is no substitute for in-person work and the mentorship and the relationships. There’s an intimacy and a level and engagement that you just can’t get through a Zoom screen. So, we’re balancing both, and we’re also looking at which roles lend themselves most to remote work, and which are really done in person. And I think the whole industry is figuring out what that right equilibrium is.”
Indeed. Given this ongoing assessment, we want to bring this discussion beyond our inboxes and webpages: Technical.ly and Generocity staff members will be taking to our public Slack next Friday, April 23, from noon to 1 p.m. to chat live about how we, and you, our readers, see the future of work.
Some Qs we might cover:
- Beyond offices, how else is the workplace changing in 2021?
- Where do you find professional community in this time of all-virtual-everything?
- What, or who, do you mean when you think “community”?
- How can we keep equity in mind as we continue to adjust our work practices?
- Does place matter to those seeking new employment?
It’s going down in the #ama channel. Have thoughts about all this, or curious what others who are a part of the tech economy have to say? We hope you’ll join us.
We’ve hosted these live discussions — call them community forums, or pulse checks — before: Check out the recap of our 2018 chat on civic tech and open data. Moving forward, we’re planning to host these public Slack conversations on the third Friday of every month. The goal is get talking with our readers about matters that impact them. Look for announcements on future topics soon. And if you don’t have a Slack account or aren’t already in the Technical.ly Slack (which,, in addition to the #ama channel where this discussion will take place, also has a dedicated #generocity channel), hit the big button below.
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