Rolodexes and typewriters. Big decisions made by “mad men” in smart suits over clinking glasses of martinis in smoke-filled offices. Swanky, perhaps, but also immediately recognizable as the relics of a bygone era.
The office of 2019, a mere four years ago, is equally anachronistic today – whether that’s a row of cubicles under fluorescent lights or Silicon Valley’s playground-style version featuring bean-bag chairs and video game rooms to entice workers to stay into the wee hours of the night.
These are already
artifacts of ancient history, fossilizing even as many workers are still surrounded by them.
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That’s because progress is a river with a relentless current. We can make minor adjustments in how we navigate the current, but ultimately it’s flowing downstream toward the sea. The future. When the pandemic hit, it busted through the old, leaky dam of cubicles in a coastal city office tower. And now, the future is clear for those who choose to see.
Workers don’t want to return to the office
Harris Poll survey in October, 73% of remote and hybrid employees said they’d probably find another job if their company forced them to work from the office full time.
And since my company, Zillow, adopted what we call “Cloud HQ”
early in the pandemic, we’ve had record numbers of job applicants, including almost 200,000 women and more than 180,000 Black, Indigenous and people of color candidates – up 60% and 46% compared with the previous period.
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The reason for this outpouring of interest is obvious. We’re building what we believe is a more connected, more equitable, more efficient, more inclusive and more flexible way of working. It’s living where you want, and wrapping your work around your life instead of vice versa.
It’s not sitting in hours of traffic for a daily commute. It’s being able to pick up your kids from school without anyone looking askance at what time you leave the office. It’s having your performance judged by the outcomes you achieve, not your ability to
sit in a certain chair from 9 to 5.
Cloud HQ doesn’t mean just moving long-standing habits online; rather, it entails inventing a new workspace whose norms and tools are born in the cloud.
New workplace guidelines help to accommodate change
For example, keeping meetings within a four-hour window helps people collaborate across time zones and avoid meeting fatigue. Meetings themselves can be better, too: A “one Zoom, all Zoom” guideline (if one person dials into a meeting, everyone does) levels the playing field and minimizes the “loudest voice in the room” effect that can occur when not everyone is present in person.
Pet-friendly offices prove popular: Pets are our companions at home. More employers are welcoming them at work, too.
Tools like sophisticated digital whiteboards help replicate the real-time collaboration tech workers thrive on. And from the senior leadership perspective, I’ve found decision-making happens more efficiently in the cloud – it’s easier to hop on a video call than wrangle everyone into a conference room.
Allowing employees to live in different places is itself an advantage, because companies build better solutions when we hear from a wider array of voices.
Zillow’s hiring pool
naturally expanded and diversified after we stopped requiring people to move near an office. To truly enable employees to work from wherever they wanted, we also decided not to limit anyone’s compensation because of where they live.
These changes aren’t about eschewing offices or never seeing each other in person; the office just serves a different purpose now. We are more intentional about how and when we get together in person.
Employees have an unprecedented level of flexibility in their day-to-day work environment, and in turn we all commit to traveling regularly for brief, but meaningful, gatherings with our teams that supercharge our collaboration.
These days, our employees are more productive, and our internal surveys show they feel a stronger sense of belonging now than in the office-centric era of fall 2019.
This being a new frontier, no one can claim to have all the answers. But the business leaders who will best navigate the river of progress are the seers who are able to simply look downstream and paddle to the speedy seam of the current — faster to the future.
Rich Barton is the CEO and co-founder of Zillow. He previously co-founded Expedia and Glassdoor.