Well, it’s 2023, and many experts are predicting a recession on the horizon. And while no one knows how bad it will be or if many countries will avoid recession, one thing is sure: companies that can weather the storm will be the ones that can adapt quickly and efficiently.
Despite this pending threat of economic meltdown, many companies persist with anti-WFH policies, offering ultimatums to employees: return to the office or quit.
Isn’t it strange that companies would instead force their employees into an office even though inflation has substantially driven up the cost of living? Interest rate increases from central banks have eaten into the budget as mortgage and rent payments skyrocket. It’s not free to catch public transport or drive to work (especially if you have to pay for parking).
Unless you’re willing to offer a company car or subsidised transport, whenever an employee is forced into the office to do a job they can do remotely, they’re losing money.
And the ironic thing about all this is the benefits of remote work are not exclusive to employees. Companies reap the rewards of remote work too.
When employees work remotely, companies don’t have to pay for expensive office space or other physical infrastructure. This can save a significant amount of money, especially if the recession hits hard and budgets are tight. The electricity cost has increased in some countries by over 100%. Offices are not immune to those costs.
Productivity is an important metric to increase to pull an economy out of recession. Despite the unfounded lies that remote workers are slacking off and lazy, studies have shown that remote workers are often more productive than those who work in an office. This can help companies get more done with fewer resources, which is especially important during a recession.
Of course, transitioning to 100% remote work is not without its challenges. Companies must invest in technology and training to ensure employees have the tools and resources to be productive. They also need to find ways to foster collaboration and communication among remote teams.
But, the crazy thing about all of this is these tools have existed for years before WFH became the norm. This isn’t some new problem that has been sprung on employers. Some companies have been offering remote work for well over a decade. I know people who have been working remotely since the late nineties.
We have Asana, Trello, Jira and a bunch of other apps that can make prioritising and streamlining the work pipeline that does not require being in the office. If you prescribe a methodology like Kanban that encourages developers to pick from a pool of work and limits overwhelming your employees, you would be surprised how effective it can be.
And then, we have communication tools like Slack which has a plethora of bots and integrations that can make communication effective. More your daily standup meeting (if you have one) into a Slack channel, and people can post their text updates there. We have Zoom or Google for video calls. Notion for wikis, content organisation and sharing. GitHub and Bitbucket for code.
Think about what your day is like in the office for a moment. You’re sitting at a desk working at a computer. Well, you can do that at home. Loud kitchen conversations, the sound of a coffee machine hissing, the sound of someone torturing milk for their coffee, the constant interruptions of someone coming over to your desk to ask a question they could have Slacked.
It’s so bizarre that some people believe remote workers are slacking off, even though most modern offices are filled with distractions and perks designed to make you leave your desk and use (like beer kegs, coffee, free food, gaming consoles, breakout spaces). I have distractions at home too, but I am less tempted.
And then you have the extended lunch breaks. I can’t tell you the number of times I would go to lunch with coworkers when I worked in an office and had a two-hour lunch break. Not on purpose, but because people would lose track of time. Some would get a beer at lunch (or two). And then you have the coffee runs when someone says they’re getting coffee, and some people feel the need to tag along.
Remotely, most of my working days are spent eating lunch at my desk. I don’t say that because I want praise or an award. I feel more motivated, relaxed and less distracted at home. By forfeiting a lunch break, I’ll finish up early for the day (which I will inform my coworkers about). This coincides with my son getting home from school, and I go outside and kick a soccer ball with him before dinner.
I consider myself a hard worker, but I can tell you, when I worked in an office, I was more distracted and wasted hours a week on non-work related things. Working remotely subconsciously makes you feel you must prove to yourself that you’re contributing. But, once you realise this and work just how you would in an office, you don’t have to prove anything. Let the work speak for itself.
Nothing has been better for me for my mental health than remote work. Sadly, many people who experienced remote work for the first time did so during the pandemic. And let me tell you something: remote work during the pandemic, even for someone who loves it like me, was difficult.
Our kids were at home, much younger than they are now, because schools closed down. We couldn’t go anywhere. Our lives consisted of work, staying home, and working. Sadly, my wife was disproportionately affected by this too.
I wanted to point out that remote work during the pandemic is not indicative of properly implemented remote work. When you force people to stay at home, it’s never a good thing. All workers need is choice. I am not saying companies should shut down their offices completely, but by offering remote work, you can offset some of the costs you would incur.
It’s simple math—fewer overheads = more money saved.
Employers either get it, or they don’t. Some jobs need to be office based but most backroom development work does not.
I think there is probably a whole lot of rhetoric about why they need employees back in the office, but really I think the biggest impediment for employers is trust.