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Remote work or no work? Concerns about WFH vs. returning to office

(EDITORIAL) There is an ever-growing divide and concern between employers and employees regarding policies over work in office or from home.

Work in office with headphones on, making use of flexible four-day workweek.

When the pandemic started and work from home become the uncomfortable-at-first norm, no one knew exactly where the idea of remote work for office jobs was headed.

We know now, and the office just isn’t all it was cracked up to be.

From better views and healthier lifestyles to huge decreases in childcare costs, transportation, and wardrobe expenses, many workers say they’re not interested in going back, and some bosses aren’t happy. Other managers and owners aren’t giving their employees a choice. The remote exception is gone.

In March, Apple CEO Tim Cook told employees to be prepared for a return to their campus in a hybrid model this week.

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“We will begin the hybrid pilot in full on May 23, with people coming to the office three days a week — on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday — and working flexibly on Wednesday and Friday if you wish,” he said in a memo sent to staff in April.

Cook is not alone. Across corporate America, management is insisting employees return to the office.

Even President Biden chimed in during the State of the Union speech saying,

“It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again,” Biden said. “People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office. We’re doing that here in the federal government. The vast majority of federal workers will once again work in person.”

A Good Hire survey of 3500 American managers shows 75% of managers want a return to the office even though they said productivity did not decline during work from home. 51% believe their employees want the same thing. However, a Future Forum survey by slack found just 17% of employees want to return to the office daily and only 34% of employees want a hybrid model.

The reasons for the disconnect are plenty.

Mother.ly contributor Beau Brink shared in a column last July about the impact Work From Home has had on her employee resource group for people with disabilities, neurodiversity, and invisible illnesses.

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“Even though 2020 had been hard, the upside was that we were managing our conditions better.”

Women bore much of the weight of moving work out of the office when the pandemic started.

Overall, women lost a net of 5.4 million jobs during the recession caused by the pandemic—nearly 1 million more job losses than men.

When some who had lost their jobs found new work from home employment, they also found a new perk. A raise because they no longer had to pay high childcare costs.

Employees cite better health as a reason they want to continue working from home as well. COVID numbers ebb and flow, but it’s more than that, they say. They’re able to work out, eat a more nutritious diet, and set a more casual, less stressed schedule.

In her mother.ly column, Brink brings up the fact that the company she worked for actually did better in the transition to working from home. As the Good Hire survey showed, most companies saw the same success.

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“Why any CEO would push for a move backward in the name of collaboration makes my head spin.”

The why’s are many. And indicative of a possible shift in how we view work.

If most work moves to remote permanently, are employees entitled to the same benefits they’ve seen in the past? Are they actually employees or contractors?

Those questions will have to be answered. We were on the path to having to answer them before the pandemic.

Remote work isn’t new. The pandemic just pushed it to the norm, but even before COVID, technology changes were opening remote opportunities for employees.

In the Good Hire survey managers who said productivity actually increased also showed a distrust of remote work in general.

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Right now though, the survey says,

“As long as there is a talent and labor shortage, employers will still have to be flexible, and even in 100% back-to-the-office situations, workers will still be able to negotiate some remote working scenarios.”

For over two years forced remote meant comfy clothes and fresh air. Will that change? We’ll see.

Mary Beth Lee retired from teaching in Texas this year after 28 years as a student media adviser. She spends her time these days reading, writing, fighting for public education and enjoying the empty nester life in Downtown Fort Worth.

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