Our digital worker survey data shows how workers’ roles align to their workspace preference. Some departments are affected by office closings more than others. I’m looking now and I see that in our note (behind the paywall, sorry) Support Remote Work by Understanding Attitudes About Work Location we laid out which worker groups felt the most strongly about spending all their time in the office (as well as a group that wants to spend most of their time in the office and the rest at home). This data is from 2019.
Return to the office will call most strongly to Management, Finance, Legal and (which of these doesn’t belong?) R&D. Those departments will be more impacted the longer offices stay closed or stay restricted. In each of these departments, the proportion of workers who want to be in the office pretty much all the time is the largest of the five segments we defined.
The Five Business Units Where Workers Prefer the Office Most
The data is comprehensive for all workers, but once you subdivide by department, the proportions have large margins of error. So you can’t read too much detail into these numbers. But if we assume that departments are more impacted if workers want to be in the office the most, we can see some impacts. But here’s the proportion of people in each department who wanted in 2019 to work almost all the time in the office:
- 40% in R&D
- 34% in a management/administration department
- 32% in finance/accounting
- 31% in operations/logistics
- 24% in legal, which is particularly interesting, because that department had the largest proportion of people who want to work from home all the time — 21%
What this tells us is that these are the departments that will face the greatest challenges in extended out-of-the-office orders. The workers in these departments are much more likely to like being in the office.
Factors That Also Matter: Company Size, Nation, Age
It will be even harder in countries where the office is more likely to be preferred, such as France, Germany and Japan. (The U.S. and the U.K., too, but they’re better able to handle flexibility.)
And it will be even harder, the larger the company. And while it’s a complex issue, older workers are more likely to prefer the office. (They’re also more likely to prefer working at home. That’s confusing, but true.)
Lesson 1: People Work Together
I suggest organizations think first about when people absolutely must work together. This is the first way people need to be in the office. Different organizations set different standards. Some organizations say that people who aren’t together aren’t really working. Different departments face different impacts on collective work.
Lesson 2: People Work With Things
Next, organizations should decide when people must intersect with equipment or devices to get their jobs done. If you need to run a drill press, you have to be in the “office.” Some organizations have perimeter security or secure facilities. Workers need to be in the office to be at that equipment.
Lesson 3: People Work With Things And With Other People
Nobody works from home and flies a plane or operates a sewage plant. Departments where people work with equipment in a collaborative fashion are the departments that are the most impacted. That’s obvious. But sometimes “equipment” depends on the definitions that management sets.