The Digital Office is Here to Stay, Whether Your Business Adapts or Not

Jon Filson Senior Content Producer, Office of the CTO Published 26 Aug 2021

Back to work – I keep reading that line. But who hasn’t been working? First, I was working on remodeling my house so I could work from home – everything from new cameras to cords to painting walls and arranging the perfect Zoom backdrop. Next, I was working from home – you know, doing the work they pay me to do.

Now I have to re-plan my life to “go back to work” in an office? Really?

Well, no, as it turns out, I don’t. Extreme Networks, it turns out, doesn’t work that way. I have “met” in person a grand total of one co-worker since joining Extreme.  On a weekly basis, I work with people in Seattle, New Hampshire, India, the U.K., Toronto, Stratford, Georgia, Mexico, and North Carolina. Oh, and that place, what was it? San Francisco? The Silicon Valley? Sometimes people from there too, where the company is headquartered.

This is a bit of practicing what you preach. Tech companies talk about this. Some do it.

Extreme believes deeply in a concept called the Infinite Enterprise, which was thought up by Nabil Bukhari, the CTO of Extreme. We did a whole podcast on the idea.  

Here’s the short form, the concept of the Infinite Enterprise has three core components:

  1. We’re moving to an infinitely distributed society, which means we won’t revolve around centres so much anymore. The hospital must come to the patient, the school to the student, the store to the shopper.
  2. That means technical infrastructure must work “at scale” — which is tech talk that means we need to build technology that increasingly allows employees to have the same quality user experience and style of living no matter where we live.
  3. Lastly, companies need to become consumer-centric. Which is to say, businesses must do what the customer wants. We need to build the high-tech worlds that customers want to create, live, and work in, and wherever they want to live, rather than bombarding them with the next cool gadget that techies think are cool.

There, you have now attended 3500 Zoom meetings at Extreme! How do you feel looking behind the veil? 

Okay, this is what it means in the workplace. As Bukhari is fond of saying, “the companies that move toward the Infinite Enterprise, will win.” He says it just like that, “will win,” all the time. It’s just how he talks. There is a misconception that the employees who are returning to offices are finally returning to work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Are we saying that they have NOT been working at home for the past 18 months? And what about employees that want to continue to work remotely?

To me, what all this means if you keep your company distributed – i.e. allow people to work from home or how they want to work – it will be a differentiator. People will want to work for you over other companies that force them to return to an office, or even worse, pay them less to work remotely. How many numerous studies have we seen that validate how productive remote employees have become?

You can see a few things coming together here. Well-employed millennials can’t afford to buy homes in huge swaths of the world now.  You can see that headline every day or you may even be living that life right now. They’re moving to places like Idaho as a result.

Why wouldn’t you want to tap into that talent? Why should Idaho get all the brilliant people?

Maybe you think this trend is a blip, but this same housing situation will face Gen Z, a generation that is growing up in Zoom classrooms. Do you think they are going to want to commute to the office every day and be chained to a cubicle? Or do you think they will want to develop better digital interfaces, doubling down to invest and invent even better ways to bring the office/classroom/store to where they want to be?

As an aside: I had a squirrel once live in my roof. The guy I hired to chase out the varmint explained to me that the squirrel was likely born in a house. Rocky the Squirrel will just go live in someone else’s house now that he is evicted from my house. He wasn’t going to go live in the forest because he had never lived in a tree. Want an edgier example? Google Bo Burnham’s song “Welcome to the Internet” from his multi-Emmy nominated show “Inside” and listen to the “wonderful you” segment.”

People are prepared to quit over this issue. That’s one way to look at it. But it’s a flawed viewpoint that creates conflict rather than solves a problem. A better way to look at the issue is to understand that quality candidates for employment will come to you, if you create an environment that works best for them. That’s where businesses come in.

There’s nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come. COVID has shown that commuting makes little sense, that forcing everyone to move to New York “to make it there” doesn’t always make sense and that people have the common sense to live where they can afford a decent life. A productive life that they desire.

People will live in Idaho, and they will want to work for you, whether your company is in Shanghai, Toronto, Berlin, or Boston. Why wouldn’t you try to make that happen?

All trends and logic suggest the “hybrid” option being discussed now is a stopgap, while most companies figure out which way the wind blows. But to me, this is one of those moments where businesses can take the lead in an Infinite Enterprise world and gain a competitive advantage. People want to live where they can afford to live. Companies can and should let them, even encourage them to do this. Because it’s clear they are going to do it anyway.

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