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CEOs want employees back to the office: Tell 'em they're dreaming!

By Errol Brandt posted Sat October 07, 2023 11:23 PM


Those of us working in Data and AI recognize that we're at a pivotal moment in human history.

In the coming decade, many low-value tasks, such as data wrangling and routine reporting, will be automated through technology. If executed well, this will make us significantly more productive than ever before.

I recently read the KPMG 2023 CEO Outlook, which delves into the perspectives of over 1,300 global CEOs. The report is full of enlightening insights on AI and cybersecurity, and it's great to see how CEOs are contemplating business transformation through these technologies.

But then I saw the line that said: 64% of CEOs believe that employees will return to full-time office work within the next three years.

It reminded me of the movie "The Castle," an iconic piece of Australian culture. In it, Darryl Kerrigan is taken aback when someone lists jousting sticks for sale at $450. His retort? "Tell ‘em he’s dreaming." 

Back to the office full time in three years? Yep, dreaming. 

With skyrocketing fuel prices and worsening traffic congestion, why would CEOs believe that employees would want that? Do they think people enjoy long commutes and noisy open-plan offices, especially when recent studies, like the one by the Australian Productivity Commission, show that hybrid workers not only maintain productivity levels comparable to their in-office counterparts but also report markedly enhanced life satisfaction.

It makes me wonder what's really driving this push for a full-time office return?  If they think they're investing in productivity, then they're dead wrong. 

In today's business environment, the best productivity returns come from technology. The smartest thing they could do is downsize the office, reduce rent, and plough the savings in automation and technology solutions. Invest in solutions, like  #watsonx, and hire people who understand how to remove productivity bottlenecks. Don't invest in soft furniture and coffee machines.

So what's the obsession with return to the office? I guess there must be some kind of cognitive dissonance at play here. Perhaps it's easier to imagine a transformative future if it closely resembles the past.

CEOs must remember they're running a business, not a daycare center. The days of the pre-pandemic corporate office are gone; they must make their investments accordingly.