Aquila Capital Partners

Austin &
New York City

Why the Future of Work Isn’t One Size Fits All

Tensions are rising in the business world as leaders evaluate whether or not they want to go back to the office. Some companies are demanding that they resume in-person work as soon as possible, while others are offering indefinite hybrid work or fully remote work. 

One major point of contention? Employees are used to a new level of flexibility. Some companies are being required to go back into the office while their C-suite is still on summer holiday. Conversely, leaders complain their employees don’t want to come into the office because of fear of exposure but seem comfortable getting on a plane for vacation or going out for dinner. So why can they do one and not the other? In a country where the vaccine is readily accessible, is going back to in-person work a legitimate complaint? It should be if you’re concerned about employee satisfaction. 

Recent studies indicate that while at the beginning of the pandemic, companies reported higher rates of productivity, that eventually leveled out—and in many cases, went back the other way. Many leaders believe getting employees back to their desks will increase collaboration and communication. So how do you balance employee satisfaction with doing what is truly best for your company? The question leaders need to ask themselves is not how many hours their employees are sitting at their desks, but what work environment best achieves the company’s goals and objectives. This might be more industry-specific than you realize.  

Asynchronous Versus Synchronous Work 

Going back to in-person work is a trend taking place at financial organizations more than most. James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley, told employees they need to be back in the New York office by September, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, announced in a company memo that all employees must report their vaccination status by June 30 in order to return to the office on July 6. Unvaccinated employees will still return to the office, but they’ll be required to wear masks, social distance, and take weekly COVID-19 tests. So why is the financial sector more apt to return to in-person work? Why are other companies more inclined to work remotely or in a hybrid environment? 

Many industries were built in an era where synchronous communication was commonplace. 

“Synchronous” communication means being in the same place, working alongside one another at the same time, where information is relayed immediately through real-time discourse. One industry that functions particularly well with real-time communication? The financial industry. Imagine a trading room floor, where people are literally shouting at each other in order to get their work done. You can’t imagine them transitioning to communicating on Slack. They need to be in earshot to respond to rapid changes. Their entire business model is geared around synchronous communication. So when CEOs of these companies are calling for their employees to come back to the office, it most likely is not malicious intent—it’s simply the most effective model they’ve found.

Tech companies aren’t having to make these types of instantaneous decisions since their workflow is more asynchronous, and their teams are self-motivated. From their inception, these companies have had people in offices all over the planet, which made the transition to remote work less of a hurdle since they already communicate virtually. Once you become accustomed to working in an asynchronous fashion, particularly where you have a decentralized business model, you can work remotely because it’s built into your methodology. And oftentimes, these companies are more focused on the end product itself than the amount of time that went into its creation. For instance, Facebook found great success with an asynchronous working environment and extended its at-home work policy indefinitely, so long as the employee’s job could be done remotely. 

It Can’t Be One Size Fits All

Even with the increase of digitization, remote communication tools, and Zoom calls, many business leaders still find it beneficial to work with their staff in person to hash out ideas and problems in real-time. But it isn’t going to be one-size-fits-all. What works for your company depends on your desired outcome. In today’s business climate, people are more concerned with the end product instead of how it was created. There is no one best model. It is going to depend on who the company is, where it is positioned within the value chain of its industry, and what personality types are involved in running it day-to-day. The transition from synchronous to asynchronous can be an adjustment instead of an overhaul—as long as you can achieve balance for your business and achieve your desired result. 

Read more for additional insights from Mark E. Watson III