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Removing remote work options creates a new caste system

(BUSINESS) Remote work has created a democratization of sorts in the workforce, and companies desperate to nix the options could take a hit.

remote work companies going back to outside employment

Many companies are mandating a return to the office after over a year of allowing employees to work remotely, and, according to a recent study, over half of workers surveyed say they won’t stand for it. As remote work becomes more normalized for all levels of employment, it is crucial that employers retain the option for employees to work in this capacity wherever possible – even if it means employing nontraditional methods.

Harvard Business Review references something called “the democratizing effect of remote work” – the great equalizing that took place during stay-at-home orders nationwide.

In short, this philosophy entails workers having their needs met while continuing to fulfill their contracts of employment. Theoretically, this is a win-win situation.

But employers have their own predilections toward in-house operations, with remote flexibility often being reserved for the highest-ranking officials while “lower” employees are expected to commute. It’s a business model with which we’re exceptionally familiar; why change?

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The answer to that question may be employee-driven, as many employees cite a preference for hybrid or remote work environments post-pandemic. “Employees are leaving workplaces that don’t suit their needs anymore,” cites HBR.

Many of those needs are emotional, too. Non-white employees and female employees face a higher level of discrimination in the workplace than their white and/or male counterparts; Black employees, in particular, reported stressful work conditions, with HBR citing that only three percent of Black employees demonstrated an interest in returning to an in-office environment (as opposed to 21 percent of white employees).

Allowing stressed and oppressed employees to work from home can improve their mental health, stress levels, and even their “feelings of belonging at their organization” in the case of Black employees.

Outside of race and gender, the publication also stresses the negative effects that mandating a return after allowing for remote work will have: “Creating a new caste system where elites have anywhere jobs and non-elites are shackled to the office full time is a recipe for high attrition among employees who often have a lot of firm-specific knowledge that is valuable to their employers.”

The less-subtle breakdown is this: If companies that are capable of offering remote work want to retain employees, they need to offer some remote options.

We saw the effects of employees in frontline occupations refusing to show up to work because of poor wages and working conditions earlier this year. It isn’t outside of the realm of feasibility to expect the next major workforce shortage to impact corporations as well.

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If the solution is as simple as letting employees work from home a few days per week or permanently (especially if their productivity doesn’t suffer), that’s a pretty small price to pay for continued prosperity.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

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