Back to the office (maybe)

Sixty percent of working Americans say, ideally, they'll work from home or remotely at least part of the time post-pandemic. But will employees be able to decide if, or how frequently, they can skip the commute? And how will we adjust to being co-workers in an office once again? Correspondent Susan Spencer looks at how one company anticipates the challenges of a new work environment, and with experts who say it's important for our productivity, and our mental health, to head back to the office.

Video Transcript

- Getting America back to work after COVID is very much a work in progress. And what happens next could hit millions of workers where they live. Susan Spencer weighs the competing demands of home and office.

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As a marketing manager for Ford Motor Company, Jovina Young has her own take on zooming for work. You are a real car person.

JOVINA YOUNG: Yeah.

- But when the pandemic hit, working from home meant really shifting gears.

JOVINA YOUNG: I had a five-year-old who was in kindergarten and a one-year-old. And my husband is a nurse. So often, he's gone at the hospital while I'm home alone with the children.

- Oh, and by the way you're also trying to work full time.

JOVINA YOUNG: There was just such a lot of pressure on us at that time.

- After a few months though, that pressure seemed to lift.

JOVINA YOUNG: I found a rhythm at home that I really, really enjoy. That I never really thought I would do this but I do-- I have found that I do prefer working at home. All right, Tyler, what do you have today for school? Do you know?

- No.

- Gone are the harried mornings and the once expected rituals of makeup, hair, and work clothes.

JOVINA YOUNG: 8:30, we have morning meeting. Pretty much, it's like yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a hoodie.

- Well, one thing you gained, I gather, is you don't have to commute.

JOVINA YOUNG: That's been a great blessing in all of this. I actually love not having to commute. And I hate to say that because I work for an automotive company.

- Conveniences like that may help explain why 60% of working Americans say ideally, they want to work from home or remotely at least part of the time. Once the cat's out of the bag, and people discover that they can work at home, and they can do the laundry over lunch breaks, it's going to be very difficult for companies to just say, "Well, no, you have to be here at 9 o'clock, period." Do you think this is the wave of the future?

KIRSTEN ROBINSON: Yeah, I do think we're evolving and setting new boundaries around what the nature of work is.

- Kirsten Robinson is the Chief People Officer at Ford Motor Company where Jovina Young works. And yes, Chief People Officer is her actual title.

KIRSTEN ROBINSON: The Chief People Officer is responsible for all of the people in an organization.

- Many of them are in for a radical change this fall when Ford goes to a hybrid model for 30,000 workers,. Managers will have input. But none of those employees will work 9:00 to 5:00 at the office every day unless they feel like it. Are you leaving it to the employees to decide what the ratio is between working at home and working in the office?

KIRSTEN ROBINSON: Yeah, we've surveyed them and the number of days they anticipate. Being in the office will vary depending on the nature of the project or the work that they're doing.

- What do you see your schedule, say, in a year?

JOVINA YOUNG: I'll be working from home probably like 70% of the time.

- This may seem a frivolous question but, you know, you're working with tens of thousands of people who've basically been in their pajamas for over a year. Do you expect that there will be any changes in what people wear to work?

KIRSTEN ROBINSON: I'm not sure if we'll say pajamas. But I certainly do expect a much more relaxed dress code. Absolutely.

- No matter what we wear, says Harvard Business School, Professor Arthur Brooks, we need to go back.

ARTHUR BROOKS: It's actually pretty amazing how much more productive people are when they meet in person. When you're meeting with somebody on Zoom, my hypothesis is 95% chance they're actually not paying attention to you. They're actually doing-- so they're playing solitaire on their computer during your Zoom meeting.

- Plus he says, "Don't underestimate the benefit of normal human contact."

ARTHUR BROOKS: Your likelihood of saying you're a lonely person goes up 60, 70 percentage points if you're working at home as opposed to working in the office. Now, it's good. There's no traffic. There's no commute. I mean, commuting is bad but loneliness is worse.

- Some people's concerns though with going back are just sort of practical things. You know, like what is the etiquette in the office when you return to work? How do you greet somebody?

ARTHUR BROOKS: Yeah, I know. And we will find that out. So there's some basics that we know. Wear pants, for example. That's a good one. You know, I can probably live without shaking hands. But I can't live without direct eye contact.

ELLEN HENDRICKSON: We all are feeling a little bit rusty, a little bit wobbly as we enter whatever this new normal will be.

- So it's not just me.

ELLEN HENDRICKSON: No, absolutely not. No, no, no.

- In fact, a good number of us, says psychologist Ellen Hendrickson, are anxious and dread going back to the office.

ELLEN HENDRICKSON: Social anxiety is driven by avoidance. And we have all been avoiding our normal social lives.

- Well, you could argue that given what was at stake, what is at stake still, that being socially anxious is the normal response, right?

ELLEN HENDRICKSON: Absolutely. So the 1% of people who just, you know, cannot identify with social anxiety at all are actually psychopaths.

- So the best way to have come through the pandemic would have been as a psychopath?

ELLEN HENDRICKSON: As a psychopath, right.

- So if you ruled the world, you would have everybody be back at work Monday morning.

ARTHUR BROOKS: I can't imagine anybody who wants a Harvard professor to rule the world. So that's just so far away from my conception of reality.

- You may have a point there. Harvard or not, everyone we spoke with seems to agree that work never will look the same again.

ELLEN HENDRICKSON: I think a hybrid model with the flexibility of working from home, saving people that commute, while retaining that ability to interact face to face and to just have that community is going to be really important.

ARTHUR BROOKS: It wouldn't surprise me at all if we actually start experimenting with a norm within companies of work from home Fridays, for example, or work from home Wednesdays and Fridays, or Thursdays and Fridays, or something along these lines. So we're going to adapt to a new model that is more independent than it was in the past.

- And for Jovina Young, that's the road to take. So you're not going to be putting on that uniform, and makeup, and getting in the car for that commute any more than you absolutely have to.

JOVINA YOUNG: Yeah, yeah. If I'm able to be as productive and work from home, I'm going to do it. And then at the times I need to be there and I want to connect with others, will go. Yeah.

- So if you like pajamas and I like pajamas, I'll wear pajamas. Then give us pajamas.