#design

Bringing designers back to the office will not help you transform.

An acquaintance recently reached out with a bit of a perplexing problem. They work in a traditional industry that embraces digital transformation when it comes to consumer experiences, but not so much for the employee experience. Now that the threat of COVID-19 is waining in their country, the company wants to recall everyone working from home for seemingly all the wrong reasons.

The first pertains to the change in collaboration with distributed teams. You would think that with everyone working from going back to a distributed model (some of the team at the office while other members are working from home) would be easy because it is essentially working like everyone is remote. And sure, it does require a little extra effort, but nothing so extraneous that it should cause any more problems than fifteen-year-old phone systems or five-year-old computers—which are both prevalent in the Enterprise.

In this case, I would argue that in support of the company’s broader and, arguably, critical need for digital disruption. All facets of the operations need to be on a path of progress that includes how employees can show up to work. Employee and consumer experiences can no longer live in two different realities. As we see in real-time, the consumer experience is radically re-imagined day-to-day. And the ideas that drive recent change and innovation are aided by that radical change in perspective as everyone’s life has been distributed and remains in fluid situations. So why keep your people bound to a desk when they can be out there observing first-hand—living and working—to experience how the world is changing. I guarantee you it’s ten-times harder to be inspired by events if you’re not there. Why risk holding back the possibility of serendipity and innovation?

The second concern regards employee loyalty. The fear is that if designers are allowed to work from wherever they will lose their attachment to the company and bounce to another job more freely. I’ve worked in some pretty cool places, one in which I spent six-figures building out for my own company. That said, my work environment is not near the top of my criteria for consideration of future employment. Perhaps if I worked in one of those worktainment campuses like Facebook, then, yeah, maybe, but there are so many other criteria to help drive employee loyalty. From here on out, if the Enterprise wants to retain top talent, then it needs to stop worrying about people sitting in a particular chair for eight hours. Instead, they need to exercise just the opposite behavior in the from of extending trust, continual transparency, and providing care for career paths. Designers— hell, everybody —have had a taste of all three of these behaviors during the initial response to the Pandemic. Do company’s really think they can revert to old ways of conducting business without any ramifications? Do they think we’ll all forget what it was like to work from home, to work with an adaptive schedule? Do they honestly think people will be okay returning to a workplace because they are no longer trusted to get their job done? Just as consumer experiences are changed forever, it is a fallacy to believe the Enterprise workplace can “go back to normal” without consequences.

Whether you’re feeling it or not, we are all now in a race to innovate. Bankruptcies and businesses closing left-and-right will continue for those businesses that do not have a culture for transformation. The less you’re set up to transform, the more likely you’re to be gone in the next year.

Now is not the time for businesses to worry about where their employees are working, but how they can help them feel supported and inspired. Put everyone in a position to help the company bring about the changes in employee and consumer experiences necessary for survival and, hopefully, more market share. In these times, businesses need to chose distributed teams over better meetings, trust over attendance, transparency over town halls, and career care over happy hours.