American Airlines invested hundreds of millions of dollars in a new headquarters, with their old facility bursting at the seams. They’ve since let go of 30% of management staff so don’t need as much space. And those that are left have mostly still working from home.
Office work is very different than it was before the pandemic.
- Work from home turned out better than most thought it would. Zoom held up better.
- Colleagues were forced to invest in the tech transition figuring out how to do meetings online. Remote folks were no longer the odd ones out, only half in the meeting compared to people in a conference room together.
- And a lot of top talent turns out to like it and doesn’t want to return to the office full time.
That means a certain amount of business travel doesn’t come back,
- It’s hard to have a meeting in person with a group of people that aren’t together
- It’s no longer as necessary to physically ‘show up’ to demonstrate seriousness and appear to be a ‘real’ contributor. Already-remote workers no longer need to go into an office anymore, and not just because there aren’t as many people in the office they’d be meeting with anyway
- And since so many people have gotten more comfortable with online meetings, talks and presentations can more easily be given that way. In my own case there are places I’d have gone for, perhaps, a 90 minute talk that took two days when you factor travel and the need to go out in advance because of the risk of delays and flight cancels. Remote isn’t as good as in-person but it’s a lot less costly, too.
The pandemic changed many things. Even ISIS went to remote work, banning non-essential business travel. Remote work is here to stay though that does mean bringing remote workers together sometimes to share company vision (and, for the cynics out there, forced fun and trust exercises).
Even the world’s largest airline isn’t bringing its own employees back to the office full time. At a question and answer session with employees following the carrier’s first quarter earnings call, a recording of which was reviewed by View From The Wing, Thomas Rajan, American’s Vice President in charge of compensation and benefits explained how the airline is thinking about return to in-person work.
The short answer is we are building a plan to start getting people back in the building more.
…Over this past year we’ve seen incredible advancements…we’ve been forced to adapt to new ways of work. How do we take all of those things as we go forward? .. As we start getting into the early part of the summer we’re going to be asking folks to spend a little bit more time in the office.
For those of you who are part of the Skyview complex, where your work is typically done it’s usually about 25% of your schedule, you’ll look to see 2-3 days a week that you’re coming into the office.
And then later this fall as we start seeing…vaccinations fully in force, with availability, we see businesses opening we believe this campus should be open for business. That’s what we’re planning for.
But of course it all comes together with the type of work that all of us are engaged in. There are some pieces of work that are done better when you have focus time when you’re away from the office and it gives you the chance to be able to do that. And what we’ve also learned is sometimes our best work is done in when we’re person, when you’re together with your colleagues and you have the ability to engage, innovate, interact, all of these brings happen and fundamentally we are a business that brings people to a place in person. That’s the reason why we don’t like seeing the things like zoom, we want people in person, it’s just a good way for us as we run our business.
In short expect over the early part of the summer, we’re going to do this staged to have folks coming in a little bit more…as we get into the early part of the fall, depending on the type of work, depending on the nature that’s there, we’ve learned a lot over this past year. That’s the key as we say how to do we apply that.
It’s also taught us that look, for mental health, for the ability to build our culture and all of the things we do, being in person is a really good thing.
Early in the pandemic American’s headquarters employees petitioned to be able to work from home. American wasn’t the only airline resisting this. I covered United’s reluctance to allow it as well. A year later even airlines are embracing remote work and that changes a lot about business travel.
American’s campus will be open five days a week. And of course frontline employees have been working in-person at airports. But even American realizes that remote work is here to stay for some people and roles.
At the same time American is resuming construction of unfinished parts of the corporate campus, including the hospitality center for employees to come stay there for training. There should be site activity starting in May or June and expect to complete at end of 2022, opening at the start of 2023.