Episode 10: Homeworkers Head Back to the Office for Free Aircon

July 28th, 2021 by Yvonne Harris

In this episode of Welcome to the New Normal, we’re talking about how workers have been heading back to the office, but is it just for the air conditioning? Many others are running for the hills, looking for new jobs because their companies failed to invest in the right technology to facilitate hybrid work. Indeed, in April, way before the heatwave, a record 4 million workers in the US decided to quit their jobs.

Tune in to the Welcome to the New Normal audio podcast now and follow along with the script below.

News

There are lots of reasons people might want to head back to the office

and lots of reasons not to as well

But with the mercury rising this summer, for many workers stuck in sweltering apartments and homes, there’s one urgent reason people are heading back to the office: and that’s air conditioning.

In a New York Times article, residents of the Big Apple said worrying about the electricity meter – air conditioning is far from green  – and keeping their air-con to a minimum,  or having no air con at all, the heat was becoming unbearable, and the office suddenly became a refreshing oasis…

And it isn’t just about comfort:

There’s a lot of pressure on women, especially younger women, to always look their best in meetings, virtual meetings included.

Looking sweaty isn’t the best look for a high-pressure meeting…

This isn’t easy if your home is sweltering hot, in the triple digits (if you’re in the US) or the high 30s we regularly experience here in France in the summer months.

Globally Less than ⅓ of homes have air conditioning

Which is actually a lot

But the US, unsurprisingly, holds record numbers of access to AC – 90% of homes are equipped with some sort of cooling system!.

But it comes at a price. On average, American households spend 256$ on AC according to a 2015 survey conducted by the US government – and up to 525 dollars in steamy Florida.

Chances are that number went up when more people had to stay home this year because of the pandemic.

But the concept of comfort AC – that is for the wellbeing of people – is fairly new.

Initially – that is in the early 1900s- cooling devices were developed and installed to protect expensive machinery and equipment in buildings, not to benefit people.

For example, it was only in 1990 that NYC cabs had to provide AC to their clientele.

Something tells me that it had to do with that experiment that took place in the 1950s where the city equipped just about 50 taxis with air conditioning.

They realized that it was more than just a nice perk when people went into those cars without needing to go to any place, in particular, they just wanted to cool off.

But, not everyone is excited about the benefits of air-con.

And here’s one of the reasons why there is a need for greater diversity in engineering and technology: A 2015 study revealed that most office buildings set their air conditioning based on a formula developed in the 1960s based on the metabolic rates of men.

For 51% of the population, that’s just too cold!

It may be a cultural thing, but I remember being shocked going to Atlanta on a work mission. Outside it was sweltering, and inside, people were wearing sweaters and hoodies because it was so cold…

I have to agree with Tony, although it’s nice not to be dripping with sweat or feeling the exhaustion of the heat in the summer, I remember feeling weird when I visited some family in the Midwest in the summer and they reminded me to bring a cardigan with me to go the cinema… Although I’ll confess I have been coming to the office more often during the heatwave in Paris.

Research

Never mind the aircon, companies are failing their employees by providing them with outdated technology.

That’s according to an Office Depot survey.

Now, while Office Depot wants companies to buy more, the survey does reveal some important points.

The survey of 1,000 American employees found that many remote workers during the pandemic had to update their home internet, spend time dealing with technical glitches, and buy equipment to improve the comfort and functionality of their home offices.

And much of this was done at their own expense.

These employers are not doing their people, or themselves any favors.

There are spikes in cybersecurity issues, and fed-up employees with these companies are, more and more, looking for a way out, leading to what leadership strategist and consultant Larry English describes as an Organizational Brain Drain.

So what does Larry English recommend companies do?

Well, he set out a few ground rules in a Forbes article.

And here they are.

First, it’s time for companies to get strategic and completely rethink the role of IT in a company

And that means embracing the cloud

Most companies were doing this before the pandemic, but according to English, it’s an essential move.

This resolves a massive security headache, improves access for hybrid workers, and takes the pressure off people who might have been maintaining or monitoring company servers around the clock.

English advises going for simplicity and quality with tech tools.

Too many companies double down on their legacy technology

The result? Remote workers are frustrated and unable to get their jobs done the way they’d want to.

Or, companies sometimes overload on software and means to collaborate, which can be equally frustrating.

Imagine one company where your colleagues use slack, teams, skype, WhatsApp, one drive, google drive, dropbox, the list is long…

His message is, keep it good and keep it simple. English says that his rule is to do everything MS teams for communication, collaboration, meetings, and even file storage.

And following his logic, you could also move everything to Gsuite too

Everything is on one platform, it’s easier to manage, it’s easier to use, and everyone is less frustrated.

Consider the Employee Experience

So far so good. With cloud and the right platforms, the employee experience is improved.

But companies need to go further, according to English, and good IT has a big role to play by clearing out the clutter.

He says that neglecting to update your IT is like having a broken printer in the office. It’s irritating, it’s time-wasting, and it might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and makes them look for another job in a better-organized company.

Number

4 million

We hear Larry English’s warning that people could quit, and they certainly do.

4 million Americans quit their jobs in April.

That’s the highest number recorded since the Bureau of Labor statistics started publishing in 2000.

Among the sectors that have experienced the biggest worker drain, retail comes in first with about 200 000 workers quitting that same month.

So what happened? Well, according to Sanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, It seems that the pandemic has been a ‘wake-up call’ for many.

Having to juggle professional and personal life wasn’t necessarily completely new…

but having to do it all at once certainly was

Many of you will have had the experience of fulfilling your role at work but also being a teacher for the kids, the family chef, and the cleaning person.

Add a little bit of spice to it all with the forced self-reflection and you get people reevaluating their priorities, which in some cases means quitting their 9-to-5, starting their company, or refusing to want to go back to the office.

Thanks very much for tuning in. You can follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube for the latest news on the podcast, and don’t forget to subscribe to us on your favorite podcast streaming program.

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