Get Ready For The Return-To-Office Showdown
After about three rounds of trying to get workers back to an office setting, this time it looks real. The uptick in Covid-19 cases caused the first foray into returning to headquarters to be pushed back. When things looked better, Delta and Omicron variant waves hit, forcing businesses to relent on their plans to get employees out of their homes and into cubicles.
Two years after the start of the pandemic, it looks like this time the executives will have their wish. Companies in all sectors—ranging from tech to Wall Street—are announcing their timelines for returning. The dominant style of work is the hybrid model, in which people will be asked to go to work for two or three days a week at their office and the rest of the time from home or wherever they so choose.
We will likely soon see a showdown. Many surveys over the last year or so showed that employees adamantly responded that they would rather quit than commute back to an office. It’s easier said than done. Saying something in a survey isn’t binding. You may have a preference of how you want to work, but it’s another thing to resign without another job lined up.
It will be interesting to watch how this all plays out. We will likely see several things happening. Wall Street banks are the most ardent proponents of getting people into the office. It’s reasonable that the leadership feels this way. The securities industry is highly regulated. They need to consider money laundering, insider trading, Ponzi schemes, churning client accounts for higher commissions and other inappropriate activities. If all the bankers, brokers and traders are under one roof, it’s easier for the compliance, legal, risk, audit and regulatory personnel to keep tabs on them.
There is another rationale at play too. In New York City, the new mayor, Eric Adams, has been a big advocate of cajoling businesses to get their employees back into the City. As crime and violence escalated in the Big Apple, as there were fewer people around, Adams contends that with commuters coming back, there will be safety in numbers.
There is also an economic reason. If commuters from New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut suburbs won’t return, the ecosystem of restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, retail stores, nail salons, gyms and other small businesses will likely fail. This would cause job losses, empty streets, invite more crime and deter both workers and potential tourists from coming into the City.
When Apple announced a return-to-work policy without a generous remote option, there was a lot of griping and pushback. We will likely see three different types of models arise. The hybrid will be the most implemented in the short run. There are still a lot of concerns for this style of work, as it’s cumbersome for supervisors to keep track of who is in the office on any particular day. People are concerned that if they are at home, they’ll feel left out of the conversation.
A survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that supervisors are not happy with remote work. They reported “negative perceptions” of the work- from-home trend. Managers said they’d prefer their staff to operate from an office setting.
The managers who responded to the survey were brutally transparent. Nearly 70% replied that remote workers are “more easily replaceable than onsite workers.” About 62% contend that “full-time remote work is detrimental to employees’ career objectives and 72% say they would prefer all of their subordinates to be working in the office.”
Remote workers shared their concerns too. Specifically, they mentioned that they’re missing out on opportunities for networking. People who are working from home feel the pressure to log in more hours a day to validate their jobs.
Those who worked outside of an office “agree remote work is beneficial and increases performance.” However, over 50% believe that “working remotely on a permanent basis would diminish networking opportunities (59%), cause work relationships to suffer (55%) and require them to work more hours (54%).”
Despite the drawbacks, in a prior SHRM study, the organization found that “over half (52%) of 1,000 U.S. workers would choose to permanently work from home on a full-time basis, if given the option.”
To compete against companies that require a hybrid model or five days a week in an office, businesses will purposefully enact remote work policies. By offering remote choices to everyone, the program will serve as a recruiting and retention tool.
For example, a scrappy startup may not have the funds to compete against Google, Amazon and Apple for tech talent. However, by offering a remote-first option, it may sway potential candidates to join the company, as opposed to working at a larger, more well-known organization that requires full time in the office.
There is one wildcard. We’ve learned that black swan events can happen. There could be another wave of Covid-19 or some other unforeseen event that reshapes the way we work. We will soon see how this plays out, as more companies are enacting their return-to-office plans.
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