Asynchronous work poses another challenge to the office market – Commercial Observer
Is the next step beyond hybrid desktop asynchronous desktop?
Many bosses have accepted the idea that workers, those who run a business and you don’t want to lose, will want to work remotely well beyond the pandemic. But many thinkers wonder why stop there? They advocate for an even more empowered worker, one who decides when, where and, above all, whether to go to the office, making the traditional workplace even less crowded than before.
“Asynchronous work gives people the freedom to move away from hyper-responsiveness and real-time communication to a way of working where they can decide when and where to work,” said Steve Glaveski, CEO of Collective Campus and author of a December 2021 article. harvard business review article titled “Remote work should be (mostly) asynchronous,” in an email exchange. “It’s characterized by getting things done, without the constant chatter of meetings, Zoom calls and instant messages.”
For Glaveski and other advocates, too often the Zoom call, or any other online facilitator used to recreate the face-to-face meeting, is a waste of time, an opportunity for immediate supervisors to assert their superiority, for opposed to something that actually adds value to the tasks.
Instead, as part of an asynchronous job, projects are overseen by “task boards”, which are documents that anyone in a work team can access through software such as Slack or Google that allows a team member to post what he is doing, to see what other members of a team have done or are doing and see what progress has been made towards their group goal.
There are other aspects of asynchronous work that set it apart from hybrid offices and, of course, traditional 9am-5pm work and commuting. These include limiting the time you have to spend on work and where you can declare without penalty that you are done for the day and not available. Early risers can get up at 4 a.m. and do more at 7 a.m. than those who get up at a normal hour all day. Night people can live like rock stars recording an album and work until midnight or beyond. Asynchronous schedules usually take time zone changes into account as well.
For those who think this is all too speculative and reeks of academics with too much free time, they expect a rude awakening. Large global real estate services companies like JLL are already watching the trend, and Salesforce, a client management software maker that is San Francisco’s largest employer, is experimenting with the asynchronous work model.
“Employers are absolutely going to have to adapt,” said Cynthia Kantor, head of customer value and growth at JLL. “Flexibility is fundamental for the future.”
In a report released in June, JLL said it found that 60% of office workers want to work in a hybrid style and 55% already do so. Only around 48% of respondents considered their company a great place to work, and one in four told the company they were considering leaving within the next year. Kantor said she saw it as evidence that workers were restless and seeking more comfort and a balance between earning a living and having a good life.
At Salesforce, the company has been experiencing “asynchronous” weeks since last year as it experiments with new work environments. It had more than 77,000 employees in May, according to a spokeswoman, and 110 offices worldwide, including six Salesforce towers (including one near Bryant Park in New York as well as the headquarters tower in San Francisco) and three in development in Dublin, Sydney and Chicago. Its most recent asynchronous week was June 20 to June 24, according to a post on its website.
One of the characteristics of these weeks is to be “meeting-free”, according to the Salesforce article. He offers some advice on “best practices” for avoiding meetings: among them, plan, plan, plan (meaning that supervisors should set clear expectations for their workers); encourage teams to look for alternatives to meeting mirroring software like Google Meet or Slack; and creating easy-to-find worker “enablement” materials on the web.
The company also created a Frequently Asked Questions document for its employees, which among other things addressed issues that might make it unsafe for them to work asynchronously, such as “How can I avoid feeling isolated?” He said the answer to most of these questions is to “rely on collaborative digital tools” by doing seemingly frivolous things like greeting your team or sharing a personal playlist.
“Employees want the flexibility to decide how, when and where they work,” Steve Brashear, COO of Salesforce Real Estate and Labor Services, said in an emailed statement. “But digital-first doesn’t mean digital-only. Our employees’ #1 request is to meet face-to-face with their teams, and our offices play a critical role. [in that].”
From a commercial real estate perspective, the question that hangs over all of this, and for which there is no single answer, is to what extent, if at all, does it make traditional high-rises dominated by obsolete or less valuable desktops. Office occupancy in major US markets has already been hovering between 40% and 45% for months, according to security firm Kastle Systems, which tracks employee identity scans in places like New York and San Francisco.
In a June interview with Commercial Observer, Owen Thomas, CEO of Boston Properties — the largest publicly traded office real estate investment trust and controller of some of America’s most iconic skyscrapers, like the General Motors Building New York City’s Hancock Tower and Boston’s Prudential Center, and builder of Salesforce’s San Francisco headquarters tower, the city’s tallest building – said companies would cling to space in the center -city that defines them, and that there was no reason to abandon Boston Properties’ age-old mantra “A-properties in A-locations”.
And Elon Musk, boss of Tesla, which makes electric vehicles, and SpaceX, which makes rockets, caused a stir in June by demanding that all of his white-collar workers return to the office at least 40 hours a week, or quit.
“Elon is the richest man in the world, so he must be doing something right,” Glaveski said in his email. “While I think real-time communication and bringing people together has its benefits, mandating full-time face-to-face hours is not something I would do.”
As for Thomas’ take, Glaveski called it “a commercial property owner’s wishful thinking” and a product of “optimism bias.”
When asked if asynchronous work is a trend that commercial real estate investors, especially those who have been drawn to offices, need to worry about, Kantor said the situation is “evolving”.
David Arena, director of global real estate for international bank JPMorgan Chase, said many of the bank’s clients are experimenting with remote workplaces and the post-COVID climate remains volatile. About half of the bank’s workforce, such as its tellers and securities dealers, need to be in the office to do their jobs properly. Then there are another 10% who can do their jobs anywhere, leaving 40% who in the future could work in a combination in and out of the office.
“There is a big role for physical real estate and physical offices going forward,” Kantor said. “It’s about matching the work environment with the work that needs to be done.
“When you are an office worker and your role is work that can be done in a variety of physical locations, it is best to be done where that person can provide them with the highest quality work product. “, she said. “It’s the best result for the employee and for the company.”