Forget “The Big Shift.” Here Comes “The Big Shakeout”
Many businesses — meaning many bosses — want employees back in the office. Millennials make up the largest cohort in the workforce. What if they won’t go along?
Millennials: Numerous, Demanding, and Distrustful
40%-75% Of the Workforce
Millennials comprise persons born roughly from 1981-1995. (Some date ranges start as early as 1978; some go as late at 2000.).
By various calculations, Millennials make up 40% to 75% of the work force.
Tech Savvy and Demanding
Any number of surveys and blogs also describe Millennials as tech savvy, demanding job hoppers. Their attitudes towards business range from idealistic to cynical, depending on whether they’re talking about their personal aspirations, or their assessments of their workplaces.
So much for the surveys. What’s a front-line view?
Gary Graham, co-owner of a leading New England furniture business, has decades of experience managing and selling to Millennials. “They’re less willing to put up with a bad experience, either as employees or customers,” He notes. “They’ve too often seen parents or older siblings sacrifice for a future payoff that never comes. So, Millennials distrust efforts and relationships that don’t deliver now.”
“If You Want To Get Paid New York Rates, You Work In New York”
With the COVID-19 pandemic winding down, employers across sectors have told remote employees to return to the office — or face consequences.
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Replenishing The Seed Corn
Many bosses see remote work over the last 18 months as having eaten their organizations’ seed corn.
They think it’s time to replenish it.
As Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman recently told his troops, “We do our work inside Morgan Stanley offices, and that’s where we teach, that’s where our interns learn, that’s where you build all the soft cues that go with building a successful career that aren’t just about Zoom presentations.”
Of course, “soft cues” don’t always work. So, Gorman delivered a hard one: “If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York. None of this ‘I’m in Colorado getting paid like I’m sitting in New York City.’ Sorry, that doesn’t work.”
Gorman’s view is nothing new. Even in pre-COVID times, many CEOs saw in-person interaction as key to culture and team building. When Marissa Mayer took charge of a struggling Yahoo! in 2012, for example, she banned remote work. In her view:
“Communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side…. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
Taking A Cut Of Employees’ Savings
Facebook CEO Zuckerberg staked out a middle position. Facebook employees may work remotely permanently. But, they will face pay cuts if working from locales less costly than Silicon Valley, which is just about everywhere else.
Evidently, Facebook doesn’t share Gorman’s or Mayer’s concerns about culture building or teamwork. It’s just that if an employee saves money by outsourcing him/herself, Zuckerberg wants his cut.
Forget The Big Shift; It’s The Big Shakeout
Reports of the death of in-person, office work — the Big Shift — have therefore been greatly exaggerated.
What we are seeing is instead the Big Shakeout. Business models which require full-time, in-person office work will return to that model. In other cases, part-time in-person or full-time remote will prevail.
By analogy, Air BnB did not kill hotels. Uber and Lyft did not eliminate Yellow Cabs. By enabling new modes of operation, disruptors broadened consumer choice and drove productivity.
Surveillance or Piecework
As the Big Shakeout takes place, not all remote-work innovations will be sweetness and light.
Full or partial remote-work businesses must find ways to supervise employees and to ensure compliance.
Technology already enables Amazon to track every move of its warehouse employees. In a similar vein, future remote workers might find themselves monitored by their own computer cameras. Every keystroke may be ingested by artificial-intelligence algorithms sensitive to traces of grifting, graft, or goofing off.
Other employers might redefine office roles or tasks in terms of measurable outputs. In industrializing countries, for example, remote piecework became popular for menial tasks, such as sewing buttons on cards, or filling matchboxes.
In the Age of Information, though, piecework need not be menial or low-paid. One cutting edge applications-outsourcing firm recruits developers as follows: it tells candidates to come back in 72 hours with software that performs defined tasks at specified service levels. The company does not care if the developer writes the code from scratch, hires someone to write it, or downloads it from the Internet. Results are all that matter. So, that is what the company tests for.
Slouching Towards The Future
Cataclysms trigger rapid changes. But, such changes need not lead to uniform movement in the same direction. That would be a shift.