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June 27, 2021
Windows 11: Microsoft reaffirms the importance of PCs

April 26, 2021
Looking to level up? Amazon, Google, Microsoft and more offer training programs

April 7, 2021
T-Mobile ups 5G ante with home broadband, free phone upgrades

February 27, 2021
What AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are buying up: The 5G battle between US carriers just got very interesting

February 1, 2021
Will hybrid work actually work? What companies and workers should consider in a post-pandemic world

January 14, 2021
It's a good time for PC users: 2021 innovations include fast pivot to 5G

2020 USAToday Columns

2019 USAToday Columns

2018 USAToday Columns

2017 USAToday Columns

2016 USAToday Columns

2015 USAToday Columns

2014 USAToday Columns

USAToday Columns
TECHnalysis Research president Bob O'Donnell writes a regular column in the Tech section of and those columns are posted here. These columns are also often reposted on other sites, including MSN and other publishing partners of USAToday.

July 19, 2021
Why returning to office will be 10 times harder than the transition to working from home

By Bob O'Donnell

When the pandemic hit last year and companies and schools of all types scrambled to get people set up to work and learn from home, almost nobody thought about moving everyone back to the office.

After all, the initial presumption was that this would be a short-term situation, and there was so much effort expended in making the transition outwards, that nobody gave a second thought to the process of coming back in.

Nearly a year and a half later, the reality of returning to workplaces and schools is staring millions of people and hundreds of thousands of organizations straight in the face – and it’s looking to be a significantly harder problem than anyone originally thought.

In fact, ironically, the more people I talk to, the more I read about it, and the more I think about, the more convinced I am that it is going to be harder than the transition to working from home. A lot harder.

And let’s not forget, that’s saying something. In the migration out of the office, many companies made herculean efforts to find PCs, set up remote access tools, reconfigure their applications, quickly migrate to cloud computing models and more to make sure people could get their jobs done.  To their collective credit, it was an incredible success. Sure, there were hiccups along the way, but initial fears of an economic collapse and worse were not only avoided, but the exercise actually led to increased productivity according to many different metrics.

Of course, it has also led to a lot of soul searching about how work (and learning) can and should be done, both from employers and employees. Additionally, it has led to some dramatic rethinking about the tools we need to get work done and how we can collaborate. Those old dreams and promises of technology enabling remote work were not so far off after all – at least in most situations.

The result is that virtually everyone seems to be embracing some sense of hybrid work models (with literally millions of variations), and come the day after Labor Day, a huge number of people and organizations are going to be entering another at least 18-month experiment in how exactly to make hybrid work, well, work.

One of the first (of many) challenges that most organizations are going to face is the dearth of high-quality video-conferencing tools. It’s fair to say that the pandemic has turned most of us from videoconferencing novices to videoconferencing experts, but a return to one of your organization’s meeting rooms could bring back more terrible memories of interpersonal frustrations than a 5-year-old Skype-only hardware conferencing tool can induce.

While there will be exceptions, most organizations have not brought their meeting places up to the multi-platform, single-click standard to which we’ve become accustomed. If you think that isn’t really important, remember that the whole success of hybrid work is utterly dependent on the ability to continue easily communicating with anyone anywhere.

Even worse, if you’ve started to participate in calls where some people are now in a conference room while others are still in the standard "Hollywood Squares"-style, one-person-per-box arrangement, you’ve undoubtedly noticed how awkward it can be.

I’ve spoken with several organizations that are intentionally trying to avoid that and maintain the sense of equality that the video squares brought to all of us by having everyone bring their laptops into conference rooms and essentially act as if they were all remote. While I appreciate the logic, I think the idea of talking to your screen to communicate with the person across the table (or next to you) is not going to work for very long – if at all.

Then there’s the challenge of where you’re going to actually sit when you return to the office – and, oh, let’s not forget the potential political hot potato of COVID vaccination requirements, or the FOMO (fear of missing out) that seeing colleagues in the office will engender).

Some organizations will simply put people back where they used to be – though they also have to accommodate all the people who switched to remote work and the new employees who joined during COVID. Many others are considering things like hot-desking, where you sign up for different physical spaces each day. Not only is that likely to get old very quickly, it doesn’t help with the other challenge of not being able to easily determine (and plan for) when certain people are in the office or working remotely.

The challenges that these – and many other issues – are going to raise, will undoubtedly lead to a lot of companies shifting their strategies as they see what processes and tools work and which ones don’t in the new world of hybrid work. It’s quite interesting, for example, to see many tech companies – who’ve generally shown the most interest and willingness to try hybrid work models – start to shift their thinking and strategies even before the mass return-to-office migration starts.

Amazon, for example, went from requiring most everyone to return to the office full-time, to a more flexible, three-day-a-week type arrangement. Apple, on the other hand, is showing signs of stricter requirements and higher expectations for time spent in the office, much to the consternation of some employees.

Ultimately, we will likely see a lot of experimentation, some of which is bound to frustrate people and could even lead – as some have predicted – to mass resignations and enormous jumps in the number of people changing jobs.

Without a doubt, however, the highly anticipated return to the office that many have eagerly awaited is going to be a lot more challenging than many expected. Let’s hope that companies plan accordingly.

Here’s a link to the original column:

USA TODAY columnist Bob O'Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. His clients are major technology firms including Microsoft, HP, Dell, and Intel. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.