After about three rounds of trying to get workers back into an office, this time it feels real. The rise in Covid-19 cases has set back the first foray into returning to headquarters. When things got better, waves of Delta and Omicron variants hit, forcing companies to scrap plans to get employees out of their homes and into cubicles.
Two years into the pandemic, it looks like this time the leaders will get their wish. Companies in every industry, from tech to Wall Street, are announcing their return timelines. The dominant working style is the hybrid model, in which people will be asked to go to work two or three days a week at their desk and the rest of the time at home or at the place of their choice.
We will probably see a confrontation soon. Numerous surveys over the past year have shown that employees have responded emphatically that they would rather quit than return to the office. It’s easier said than done. Saying something in a poll is not binding. You may have a preference for how you want to work, but it’s another thing to quit without another job in sight.
It will be interesting to see how this all pans out. We will probably see several things happen. Wall Street banks are the most ardent proponents of getting people into the office. It is reasonable for the management to feel this. The securities industry is highly regulated. They must consider money laundering, insider trading, Ponzi schemes, spinning client accounts for higher commissions, and other improper activities. If all bankers, brokers and traders are under one roof, it is easier for compliance, legal, risk, audit and regulatory staff to monitor them.
There’s another rationale at play, too. In New York City, the new mayor, Eric Adams, has been a big proponent of cajoling businesses to bring their employees back to the city. As crime and violence escalated in the Big Apple because there were fewer people, Adams argues that with commuters back, there will be safety in numbers.
There is also an economic reason. If suburban commuters in New Jersey, Long Island, and Connecticut don’t return, the ecosystem of restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, retail stores, nail salons, gyms, and other small businesses will likely fail. This would lead to job losses, empty streets, invite more crime and deter both workers and potential tourists from coming to the city.
When Apple announced a return-to-work policy without a generous remote option, there was a lot of pushback and pushback. We will probably see three different types of models appear. The hybrid will be the most implemented in the short term. There are still a lot of concerns about this style of working, as it is cumbersome for supervisors to keep track of who is in the office on any given day. People fear that if they are at home they will feel left out of the conversation.
A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that supervisors are unhappy with remote work. They reported “negative perceptions” of the work-from-home trend. Managers said they would prefer their staff to operate from an office.
The managers who responded to the survey were brutally transparent. Nearly 70% answered that teleworkers are “more easily replaceable than on-site workers”. About 62% say “full-time remote work is detrimental to employees’ career goals and 72% say they would prefer all their subordinates worked in the office.”
Remote workers also shared their concerns. Specifically, they mentioned that they were missing out on networking opportunities. People who work from home feel the pressure to log in more hours a day to validate their jobs.
Those who worked outside of an office “agree that working remotely is beneficial and increases performance.” However, more than 50% believe that “working remotely permanently would decrease networking opportunities (59%), hurt working relationships (55%) and force them to work longer hours (54%)”.
Despite the downsides, in an earlier SHRM study, the organization found that “more than half (52%) of 1,000 American workers would choose to work from home permanently full-time, if given the option. “.
To compete with companies that need a hybrid model or five days a week in an office, companies will deliberately adopt remote work policies. By offering remote choices to all, the program will serve as a recruitment and retention tool.
For example, a scrappy startup may not have the funds to compete with Google, Amazon, and Apple for tech talent. However, by offering a remote first option, it may entice potential candidates to join the company, as opposed to working in a larger, more well-known organization that requires full time in the office.
There is a joker. We learned that black swan events can occur. There could be another wave of Covid-19 or another unforeseen event that reshapes the way we work. We’ll see how that plays out soon, as more companies implement their return-to-work plans.