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Return-to-office debate sparks channel partner opportunity

After a year-plus of remote work, organizations have begun to mull their next steps: return to the office, stay remote or go hybrid? Here's how partners can help.

Dave Sobel is host of the podcast The Business of Tech and co-host of the podcast Killing IT. In addition, he wrote Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business.

In this video, Sobel discusses the decision many organizations now face: whether they should return employees to the office, stay remote or pursue a hybrid work option. This crossroads presents an opportunity for organizations to make smart decisions about their business operations.

Transcript follows below.

Dave Sobel: Listeners to The Business of Tech know I'm really interested in the return to the office. I think this is going to be a critical trend.

Let's reference some data I covered on the show from Tech Aisle about what is going on:

58% of employees within the US SMB and midmarket firms expect to work from home at least till the end of 2021, in sharp contrast to pre-pandemic in 2019 when 29% of small business (1-99) employees, 9% of employees within midmarket firms (100-999), and 7% within upper-midmarket firms (1000-4999), who worked from home. However, the work from home trend may not play out in the longer term. Encouraged by the increasing rate of vaccinations and economic recovery, 61% to 67% of firms plan to bring back all employees to the office by early 2022. Only 22% are planning for a phased or staggered approach to re-opening offices as soon as it is safe to do so. Higher employee size businesses are likely to be more aggressive in their re-opening plans than the smaller businesses. 11% of firms will most likely permanently adopt an approach allowing some of their employees to work from home indefinitely.

Overall, 97% of mainstream businesses (1 to 5000 employees) feel unprepared to having a long-term remote and hybrid workforce work environment. Between 17% and 44% of small businesses to upper midmarket firms' IT staff is challenged in identifying and deploying hybrid workplace solutions.

So, that's a great set of data, but it's missing something so very important. Cue the movie quote.

[Clip from the film Jurassic Park:]

John Hammond: I don't think you're giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody has ever done before.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah. Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't think if they should.

'Could' versus 'should.'

A year and a bit ago, in 2020, businesses had to move quickly to work from home and work from anywhere. It wasn't optional. What's different now is that it is optional. Business leaders have the ability to design and implement any return they want, at any speed they want. In fact, a good business leader now has two practical examples to compare -- before and now -- and can design anything in between.

An opportunity to redesign your business operations

I'm really struck by how many of the conversations are about the technology or the race to open and not about what you should do. What builds the best organization to accomplish your business goals? You can do anything you want -- now, what do you do, and why?

The missing and most valuable piece is the decision-making around 'why.' Do that for your own organization and do that for customers.

Why are companies going back? Why would they stay remote? Why would they go hybrid?

You have the opportunity to design any kind of business ops you want. What would you design and why?

Now, I expect most companies will not take the time to ask this. They won't. They will fall into old patterns and just return to work. Or they will call it a hybrid because the genie is out of the bottle and they know they can't just make everyone go into the office five days a week, so they will settle on two or three days a week and be done with it.

And that's such a shame. It's such a lost opportunity.

Helping clients decide on their next steps

Again, let me reinforce the key difference between March 2020 and today. Back then, you had no choice. The public health emergency forced business owners to change. The science was still learning exactly what worked and what didn't as it related to COVID-19 -- remember wiping down incoming mail? -- and so, society collectively shifted to remote work.

For those businesses that could, they learned it worked. It worked well enough to keep the doors open, and they traded one set of problems for another. You can have healthy debates about levels of productivity or the need for physical collaboration on creative types of problems. That's healthy.

So, have them. Seriously, slow down and have them.

Building culture is a deliberate action, and often from action or inaction. Not taking action is an action. Ignoring something is a choice. Often, it's a passive one, but it's a choice, nonetheless.

Not determining your 'why' of your new work mode is the choice here.

Why do you have office space? What is it used for? What will you do with it? How should it be configured to best support that 'why'?

If you have office space because you've always had office space, and it has been vacant for a year, you're missing the opportunity to decide what the 'why' is.

More importantly, I also think this is a huge area to help customers. Since their use of space is closely tied to technology, this is a time to have those conversations. If you change the way people work, you are leveraging technology to do it. Remote work and the new paradigm of work is enabled by technology. Thus, technology and IT services companies should be the perfect ones to have this discussion.

Ask 'why.' Those that do will win, and, I believe, win big and unlock the new potentials for collaboration.

About the author
Dave Sobel is host of the podcast
The Business of Tech, co-host of the podcast Killing IT and authored the book Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business. He owned and operated an IT solution provider and MSP for more than a decade, and he has worked for vendors such as Level Platforms, GFI, LogicNow and SolarWinds, leading community, event, marketing and product strategies, as well as M&A activities. Sobel has received multiple industry recognitions, including CRN Channel Chief, CRN UK A-List, Channel Futures Circle of Excellence winner, Channel Pro's 20/20 Visionaries and MSPmentor 250.

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