Just when you thought the return to office movement was gaining momentum, driven by high-profile companies and out-of-touch boomer CEOs that struggle to adapt to the new paradigm of flexible working, it appears there might be a few bumps in the road.
Some data has come out on productivity from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics since some workers have been forced back into the office, most notably showing that productivity has decreased.
The irony of this is not lost; considering the justification for pushing workers back into the office has been driven by claims of in-person collaboration increasing productivity, the data seems to suggest otherwise.
It also doesn’t help that many companies I have heard of mandating a return to the office have done so rather aggressively. The “return to the office or be fired” approach that some have taken, most notably Elon Musk is a staunch proponent of, could only ever result in decreased productivity. Then you have Amazon announcing a forced return to the office on May 1, 2023.
If you have ever worked in an office before, you would know it’s full of distractions. I wish I had a non-biased way to quantify my productivity, but my productivity has been very high over the years I have worked remotely. I think part of that is I get sick less. I have kids in school, and since working remotely full-time, I’ve noticed I get sick maybe once or twice a year.
Don’t just take my word for it, they have quantified some of this stuff since the 2020 pandemic, and people aren’t just slacking off playing games and watching Netflix while working remotely.
When the Integrated Benefits Institute surveyed workers in October 2022, it found employees who work remotely or in a hybrid environment indicated that they are more productive (21.8%), more satisfied (20.7%), and more highly engaged (50.8%). Those are significant numbers.
And in another October 2022 survey, Slack found that workers forced to return to the office were spending up to four hours on video calls daily. On average, workers were spending two hours in meetings a day.
People are working remotely in offices. Isn’t it ironic during the pandemic, we were all doing video calls remotely, only for some to be forced back into the office and still work like they’re working remotely? It makes no sense.
There are arguments that working remotely devoids employees of human connection. Maybe that’s true; maybe it’s not. In my industry, even working in an office, I had headphones on, and human interaction was reserved for pointless meetings, lunch and coffee trips. Since when do companies care about human connection?
I have always described my in-office experiences to people like this, “I worked remotely in an office” detached from my surroundings, having to be a part of meetings where people were phoning in any way. I’m very fortunate that my job can be done remotely. I acknowledge that not every job can.
Have you noticed that the most outspoken against remote work are primarily in their fifties, white and rich? But, remote work proponents are currently fighting a war against Elon Musk and Marc Andreessen, coincidentally also a billionaire. Andreessen claims that remote work is not a good life for young workers.
Cost of living pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic might be over, but we are entering a new pandemic with no vaccine—the cost of living. Over the last few months, you might have noticed that a supermarket trip has been more costly than usual.
While inflation is the primary contributing cause of the increased cost of living, despite inflation starting to fall in most places (U.K., USA and Australia especially), the cost of living crisis will continue throughout 2023 and beyond.
The price of eggs in the USA was up 150% from the year prior, prompting some U.S. lawmakers to demand an answer from egg companies as they reap record profits. Not everyone eats eggs, but it’s one of many components of the food chain that feeds into the price of other things and adds to the overall strain on household budgets.
On top of that, companies forcing remote workers back into the office add to those costs—transportation being a big one. If you drive, that’s fuel, tolls, possibly paying for parking, the wear/tear on your vehicle and maintenance costs. Public transport can still add up.
And then you have the social pressure of office lunches (the price of eating out has dramatically risen) and trips to get coffee. When I worked in an office, people often ate out and got coffee, and if you didn’t partake, you missed out on office relationship building and risked being seen as an outlier. Great ways to bond, but at what cost?
Give people the choice
Remote work isn’t some new thing invented during the pandemic. A lot of companies have been successfully been working remotely for years. There are 100% remote work companies like 37 Signals that have been doing it very successfully, profitable and have high retention rates and satisfaction levels.
But here is the thing. Not everyone wants to work remotely, and that’s okay. If you’re applying for a 100% remote company and you hate remote work, then that’s on you. But, if you’re working for a company with an office, it shouldn’t be either all, especially if you offered remote work during the pandemic and now trying to take it away.
There is no reason why companies can’t offer both. Give those that want an office a physical space. Give those that want remote the ability to stay and work remotely. People should be free to work the way they want too. Ultimately, all that matters is people get their work done in a way that works for them.