How do you feel about companies asking workers to return to the office after three years of working from home?
I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t have child- or elder-care issues and my company is only requiring workers to return to the office two days a week. Yet, I find this very disruptive. My team and I have long commutes (2+ hours each way) and we have been applying that time to our work. In addition, our larger team is global and we have always met via Microsoft Teams. Our workstations have been eliminated in order to create a “collaboration space.” This means we will have to reserve space each week in order to come into the office and bring our laptops and whatever else we need for our work that day,
What disturbs me the most is the tone of the message from our CEO. It was a unilateral announcement that “this is what we’re going to do” without any consideration for colleagues’ concerns, and there are many. (There is a process to apply for an exception, but I have little faith in the outcome.)
As always, thank you thank you for your guidance to those looking for a job and for those already employed.
You’re not alone.
Return to the office? Really?
The consulting firm McKinsey reports that 87% of Americans want to work in a flexible environment — in an office setting and remotely. Adzuna, an employment website company, reports that from November 2020 to 2022, job postings increased by over 6.2 million — but less than 2% were in-office jobs, while job postings for remote jobs increased by 10%.
Just last month (January 2023) Forbes reported, “Over the past two years, hybrid and remote positions have dominated advertised vacancies, reshaping workplace norms and giving employees power when it comes to flexibility and where they work.”
Yet, as you’re experiencing, many employers are blundering through this sea change, alienating employees and job seekers alike. Your CEO may be untutored in how to manage and communicate with the company’s employees.
Wrestling with a plan
You asked what I think. This problem will vex many companies and workers for time to come. Some are wrestling with new plans but, as you suggest, management cannot do this alone. A CEO laying down the law is, frankly, silly when the issue impacts everyone in the company. The harder the CEO comes down, the harder it’s going to be to re-fill jobs when you and others quit.
I believe this is a huge opportunity for employers to save money on traditional office infrastructure – money they can then invest in their employees (rent subsidies for those who work from home?) and in collaboration tools (which might include new software and better but lest costly collaboration spaces). But a workable plan that’s intended to avoid business disruptions requires input from all stakeholders.
In your case:
- Four hours of commuting that can be spent working (and living!) is a no-brainer. They could let you work from home unless something makes it impossible to do your work.
- If your company’s global teams can work virtually, why can’t local ones?
- The very fact that there is an “exceptions process” suggests the company recognizes remote work is an option. (So, I would fully exploit it and see what concessions you can get!)
Why a return to the office may not be best for business
One thing is clear at all these very confused companies: They don’t know how to manage work and workers remotely. So get ahead of this. I suggest explaining to your management how you’ll get your work done at home, how four hours not commuting translates into more time working and higher productivity (be ready to prove it), and how this will save them (and you) money.
This is where an organized effort of colleagues is key. As a team, you must make a clear commitment that you will deliver as promised, and suggest some (creative new?) metrics so your managers will feel confident about what you’re doing not matter where you are.
I can’t emphasize this enough: You may have to explain it to them. That means you and your co-workers may have to take the initiative. (There’s also power in numbers.) Your bosses and their crack HR team probably have not figured it all out on their own. In such times of upset, there are usually opportunities, too. With things in flux, everybody loves a good “solution.” You and your peers could be the ones to suggest solutions!
The costs of ordering a return to the office
According to CNBC, while about 50% of corporate leaders — including Apple, Citigroup, Disney, Goldman Sachs and Salesforce — are demanding their employees come back full time, many employers could pay a stiff price. Your employer needs to think twice!
In Forbes, Doug Dennerline, CEO of Betterworks, says forcing a return to the office will cause a spike in turnover: “Organizations are guaranteed to lose great people, not only for lack of flexibility, but because many of the best employees moved out of expensive cities during the pandemic and won’t be moving back.”
I agree. I think employers that post all-remote jobs will snag more of the best workers.
The other part of a strategic answer to “Where will we work?” is to start quietly developing some options should this go south. Many companies now explicitly advertise jobs that are all remote. So your employer is facing competition. Hedge your bets. Start interviewing. (If this is the path you take, be aware of the 6 ways to avoid trouble when you resign.)
While you may feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, you’re not alone, and the job market may be on your side. The question to be asked may not be whether we should return to the office, but whether we should return to the same employer.
Have you returned to the office (if that’s the kind of work you do)? What’s your employer’s policy? Did a desire to work remotely lead you to change employers? If you’re an employer, how are you handling this? Do you believe work will increasingly be done remotely?
Right before the pandemic, the biggest fad in the business media was the discussion of the hip cities to work in in tech and if you didn’t want to relocate there and work in their hip cool urban offices, you would be left behind.
Well the companies sure remember what they wanted and they want it back.
My personal opinion is that I pretty much hate almost everything about what the pandemic did to the world.
But working from home was the SINGULAR plus for a lot of people. But the big companies had a plan to get hip young talent packed into hip urban locales and offices and they want their dream back.
Screw ’em. Let the companies that let people work from home mop up on the old office peddlers…..
The key words here are ‘hip’ and ‘young’. Even if the CEO is old, it looks good to him, and he doesn’t have to deal directly with the attitudes and the lack of skills. These businesses want a certain look and the bonus is that they can pay less, even if the young and hip find out fast they can’t pay their bills and ankle fast. Also, there’s the DEI push, pushed by the largely DEI’d HR departments. (Diversity does not include age, eh?)
A winning employer has already figured out that listening to their workforce, being flexible in work arrangements and hiring older workers can be a great combination.
Great comment Dee. As someone who moved to silicon valley for seven hellacious years, I can confirm that ageism is rampant in that sheethole and all of Tech. I am grateful to have an amazing director and I work in the office only 2 days a week.
Must give a you a delightful feeling of schadenfreude to see all the layoffs after an orgy of overhiring in SV. I am sure the older group were the first to get the ax along with the H1-Bs. And the equity and VC investors have come close to full stop. How many did Amazon and Goldman layoff?
> Diversity does not include age, eh?
Nailed it, Lisa.
Dee I just called you Lisa. Oops. Lisa you understand, right? :)
My company is getting an important part of this right. If a department is meeting its objectives, they are free to work however they want (remote or office). But if a department is falling behind, the whole department has to go to the office every workday until performance metrics are in line again. It’s quite the incentive.
Where we could do better is creating some collaboration days for people that want the in-person interaction. I pop into the office occasionally, but it’s really hit or mis to see others there. Maybe every third Wednesday could be in-person-meeting day, or something along those lines.
@Keith: I tend to agree that if a group is meeting objectives, who cares where they work? But I also hesitate as I wonder whether other factors might play into this choice. I can’t think of any, and I haven’t heard any from employers or HR.
Except… A young friend of mine who just started his professional career opted to go to the office 5 days a week while others work from home. His boss and a few others are in the office and he felt he needed to learn face-to-face skills he’d never get remotely. He also figured he’d get a lot more time with his boss — an important benefit that he says has paid off nicely. He often gets first crack at the best assignments, and going for a lunchtime walk with his boss — where they talk shop — has given him (and his boss) insights into one another’s skills, interests and problem-solving patterns.
@Nick: Face-to-face is a fundamentally different interaction.
As much as I (and many of us) prefer remote work, it is different (and props to whoever figures out how make online have the same dynamic).
Your young friend is smart! Yes, they aren’t gaining the skills they need working 100% remotely, but I have a feeling your friend would be thriving if he worked on Mars! (Perhaps I’m cynical, but I’ve seen the office be a place for gossip, general ‘gassing’and drama, and shopping for bathing suits online. That isn’t to say that I don’t miss the casual visits down in the cafeteria where I learned a lot about IT and perhaps gained an edge for my area! It’s just at this point I don’t need or want office politics and the commute.
I used to drive for an hour one way, 34 miles in heavy traffic on a toll road, to sit in a freezing cold, noisy, windowless office, and work over the Internet. I communicated with my manager on Teams because she spent a lot of time on conference calls and in meetings. It was much better working from home.
When the company I worked for closed one office and moved to a rent an office further north, my VP wanted me in there maybe once a week.My group was dispersed all over the US. She then moved temporarily to the company HQ and I stopped going in unless she was there. She then was let go! And the last time I was there was to pack up my things. My counterpart was forced to spend one week a month at HQ but since my new VP didn’t understand my area nor much care, I kept doing what I was doing. By the time she started to care (and play political games), the company was bought, the pandemic happened, and we both had departure dates.
In office as a punishment. Nice. I’d be looking for another job.
I worked for IBM throughout the mid 90’s mid 2000’s (10 years total). PM for Web Hosting. 6 of those years were work from home, they did this internationally. Best way to work ever! I would get way more work done at home than in the office. People always bugging me in my little cubicle. Everyone used IM and phone conference calls. Worked great. You do not have to “see” your co-workers/managers to get your work done. The work is there no matter what. I supported fortune 50 and fortune 100 companies, the clients never had a problem with this type of work style. They were able to reach us 24/7. I did have to travel to see many clients. The managers never bothered us unless there was a problem (except for the micro managers). No slackers here!
I’m sorry Nick, I def. got a bit of a giggle with the second paragraph you wrote under heading “Wrestling with a plan”.
@Cynthia: Thanks for the example of remote work… from well before “the lockdown!” Proof that it works, I think. So you liked the idea of “subsidized rent?” ;-)
Hi Nick, I did want to chime in on the subsidized rent idea. I would guess that idea will not see the light of day because I’m thinking companies in general will be looking for a way to monetize the situation for themselves. I’m of the opinion that if I don’t have to commute that would save me all kinds of money on fuel, insurance, and time. I’ll let the subsidized rent slide, gratis. Companies are beginning to face down problems as far as health and safety issues go for the work at homers. How is the work-space set up? Is it ergonomic? Will we (the Company) be liable for such things (carpal tunnel)? I do hear that companies are purchasing work-stations for those working at home and sometimes going as far as poking their noses into the employees set-up at home.
I don’t think all of the ‘return to office’ strategies are driven simply by it’s good for the company. There are other aspects to consider.
If I am a manager and I like my office/building/corner view, I need employee’s in the office so I can justify the costs of same. If the manager likes working in the office, then most managers will want their people in the office (at least some of the time).
Or I may be a manager who doesn’t really trust their people – ‘if I can’t see you working, you are goofing off’. Usually this says more about the manager than the employees.
A lot of this flows from the top down – i.e., the division manager likes his office, so he wants to come in, which means his reports have to come in, which means ….
As for cost savings, the building may have 3 years left on the lease, so they can’t really stop paying until the lease terms.
I suspect over time, we will see more companies moving to remote work, but there will be some that don’t want to move. If it is important to you, it needs to be something you negotiate in writing before you start work.
There are a fair number of managers who want everyone in the office because 1) they like their offices, 2) want to get away from home, and 3) already spend a fair amount of time on the road and want a place to dump stuff, and 4) are closet technophobes who have trouble rearranging their homes to have a secure and quiet location where the Wi-Fi works.
You hit on a key aspect. Generally, the higher on the food chain, the more pleasant the office environment. And greater discretion on when, and how long they come in the office.
I remember when Marissa Mayer (Yahoo!) made everyone come in to the office. She stated that if she, as a working mother, could come in to the office every day, so could everyone else. Then she had the company install a nursery next to her office.
I remember that too. What a jerk!
And she eventually got hers. Forcibly retired after she wrecked Yahoo. Entitled like most in SV.
@Neil: Bingo! If remote work is important to you, get it in writing before you sign up!
@Gregory: Good example of how the perks of management can influence decisions about the work of employees who don’t get such perks.
My company got it right. We are now 100% remote, some of us moved several states away. In 2020 & 2021 we had record profits. Switching to remote work improved outcomes. We proved we can do it. We use Teams and I’ve never been happier in my job. No more commuting, no more makeup & hairstyling and no more ‘business casual’ clothes. As a survivor of 30+ years of corporate work, I am so, so grateful to be 100% WFH.
That’s great Margie! I forgot about the added benefit of not having to look presentable every day.
I was always in (WFW) the office, lab (or should I say Labfice) . I worked temp for some time now and the nature of my work is with stuff. There are times when I could work from home, but do not because of internet connection or lack of one. My commute is less than one hour by public transit which I always used. The company will not cover a portable hotspot (they are cheap in more ways than one). At this time in my life I get to pick and choose the positions and situations. Not sure if others in the organization are pulling their weight but seem to be ahead of the curve in meeting schedules. Plus there are no distractions at work because not many are there.
My company requires 3 days per week in office to “foster collaboration and positive work culture” despite the results of a company-wide employee survey that determined 90% of employees would prefer to WFH full time. Our cubes, which were useless to begin with, were eliminated in favor of long, skinny desks that fit three work stations, and even lower level managers had their offices turned into shared spaces. Its very much as Neil said above, the managers love coming in to their fancy corner offices and socializing with each other, therefore we have to be there too. I’d love for them to work for 1 week from our desks and see how unproductive it is compared to my quiet, private at-home workspace. It costs me $45 a day to get to the office and just kills me to see that money and time go down the drain.
Can you bill them $45 trip? and does your firm fully re-emberse your internet connection costs?
In 2020 we recieved a monitor/keyboard/mouse kit and a one-time stipend to purchase supplies or upgrade our wifi router. We’re not able to submit commuting costs for reimbursement.
Erika, that’s more than we got from the company I worked at when we started WFH in 2020. We got…$0.
In 2021, we started losing people. We ended up with 50% turnover of people at the level I was at in the group I worked in. Yes – 50%.
I talked to several people before they left, and they said 1 reason was that the company refused to allow permanent remote work. We lost 1 very good person because he wanted to move out of state. There was a company office where he decided to move, but the company refused to allow him to work out of that office. So he found another job.
I think my company did it right. The higher in the organization, the more they want you in the office. Those who are classified as individual contributors (like myself) and can do their work remotely, currently have the option of working from home 5 days a week. I’m in IT at my organization, and we had already been split among several offices in the state, so we had already been kind of working remotely.
Of my team, only two of us come into the office on a regular basis. The other person is once a week, I’m in three times a week, but that’s my choice. (My commute is 12 minutes). My supervisor and his supervisor are in twice a week.
The bottom line is “Are we getting our work completed”? If yes, leadership sees no need to change things.
The interesting thing to me about workers complaining about returning to the office is it often centers around the length of their commutes, their kids’ activities, having to get dressed, paying for parking, etc. As an employer, it’s not my concern that they chose to live in the suburbs, want to coach soccer, or drive to work. A more convincing argument from these folks must focus on how working remotely helps us achieve our goals, still allows for meaningful collaboration, and proving they are more productive. Folks appear on scheduled Teams meetings but are often difficult to reach otherwise which makes me question if they’re really working. For me, the jury’s still out on the wonderfulness of a remote workforce.
hmmm.. a little chilly here… Sometimes I cannot believe how difficult people make it for themselves. Working remotely works just fine unless you hire the wrong employees or you as a manager don’t know how to act. . Do you walk around to everyone’s cubicle to see if their working? Maybe you do. Do work goals change because you are working from home? No. Prove you are MORE productive from home? Why not SAME productivity either way? If you have a difficult time getting a hold of employees you either do not have the proper tools in place or you need to get rid of these employees.
>Do you walk around to everyone’s cubicle to see if their working? Maybe you do. Do
Even if you do it might not help you much. The appearance of being busy and actually being busy are not the same thing. You need to measure objectives and remote work forces this.
@Craig: “The appearance of being busy and actually being busy are not the same thing. You need to measure objectives and remote work forces this.”
That’s an excellent point.
It’s almost like good employees will be good in the office or remote and bad employees will be bad in the office or remote.
A manager that cannot tell the difference will have the same issue in the office or remote.
Tell me you’re a bad manager without telling me.
I mean, why would a manager want to make working for them an attractive opportunity instead of a hassle.
In the long run, companies that force return to office when it’s not necessary will be less competitive while drawing from a smaller employee pool than those that embrace remote work.
“On work-issued computers, employers can gather data from your keyboard, like how often you’re typing, and even your webcam, if it’s in your employment agreement. On corporate Internet connections, your employer probably can see which sites you visit, and it can access the emails you send from company accounts. Those without office jobs get monitored, too. Amazon, for instance, has reportedly deployed tracking technology for both drivers and warehouse workers. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post).”
Given recent revelations and the $2.7 billion Amazon list in FY 22, Bezos should schedule a one way trip on Blue Ocean to where the space is dark indeed.
“A 2-Year Stanford Study Shows the Astonishing Productivity Boost of Working From Home”
“There has been much debate about working from home and whether or not it’s a productivity boost or major productivity drain. Paranoid managers envision employees lying on their couches at home in Metallica concert T-shirts eating Doritos off their belly and watching Ellen.”
“But Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom has definitive data that paints a very different picture and indicates it’s time once and for all to embrace and enable the benefits of working from home.”
“Bloom found a willing lab rat for a ground-breaking experiment in his graduate economics class at Stanford–James Liang, co-founder and CEO of Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, with 16,000 employees. The CEO was interested in giving employees the work-from-home option because office space in the company’s Shanghai HQ is supremely expensive and because employees had to endure long commutes to work (not being able to afford city living). The result was horrendous attrition.”
“So Liang wanted to make the work-from-home move but needed proof it wouldn’t tank productivity.”
“Enter Bloom, who helped design a test whereby 500 employees were divided into two groups–a control group (who continued working at HQ) and volunteer work-from-homers (who had to have a private room at home, at least six-month tenure with Ctrip, and decent broadband access as conditions).”
@Vivia: While I agree that “A more convincing argument from these folks must focus on how working remotely helps us achieve our goals…”, isn’t it just as important that managers figure out how to make that happen? Too often, managers are doing work similar to the rest of the team, rather than “managing” the operation. Which includes developing methods to make sure workers are productive and meeting goals.
I didn’t say it was easy, and heaven knows I’m always telling people to take it upon themselves to demonstrate how profitable their work is, even if the boss can’t figure it out. That doesn’t mean the boss doesn’t have a management obligation to… here it comes… figure it out first!
When you repeatedly say “Folks” you are a baby boomer and they are the absolute worst to work for or with.
Right. It’s also not your concern if your company attracts the best of the best. I would guess you are correct in suspecting those hard to get in contact with are not paying attention. Those folks may need the school of hard knocks. It’s likely just me, but I look at my availability with an employer as being all the time. I travel for work, work on-site outside, work at home, and work at the office sometimes. I find my time at the office is far less productive. Newer studies are backing up that notion.
We had discussions on this topic at my office.
We determined that those who wanted to return to the office were extroverts and those who wanted to work from home were introverts.
We decided that returning to the office was optional for the locals. Those who work remotely could remain in their locations.
I’m a local and an introvert, so the only time that I go into the office is for a special meeting. The company finds that perfectly acceptable.
The pressure to pull people back into offices is extreme in the NY area, especially in Manhattan. There are long term leases where the offices are half empty and the employers are stupid-stuck. Commercial RE has a big political clout in this area. The city (tied to big RE taxes and political donors) and certain ‘business leaders’ are pressing businesses to come back in with the story that the business district businesses (which pay exorbitant rents) that serve office workers (e.g. cafes and restaurants) are starving. While I feel for them, not many people want to spend the money with inflation, nor linger when you might get mugged on the streets or subway/bus, or at Grand Central, Port Authority, or walk through the open sewer that’s Penn Station. It’s tiresome and nerve-racking to put your head on a swivel all the time and wonder if the guy ahead of you has bad intentions.
As for me, I’m at the end of career and have worked remote or part remote with dispersed teams since 2014. I’ve paid my dues many times over in long commutes in the tri-state area and no interest in doing that again, nor risking life and limb between crazy drivers and criminals. Thanks but no thanks.
@Dee: Yah, I suppose that if a company is stuck with a 3-year lease, making workers come into the office helps pay off that lease better than if they stay at home for the remainder of the lease.
“Commercial RE has a big political clout in this area.”
That is the crux of the matter, I think.
In NYC and area, your office leases are 10 years, even more! The storefront vacancies of delis and restaurants in Midtown Manhattan are stunning, especially on the avenues (3rd, Lex, etc). They can’t make their crazy monthly nut even with desk delivery. Add to that the worker shortage at that level (along with $15/hour minimum wage!). So commercial RE interests are really banging the current Mayor Swagger-Man-Without-A-Plan over the head with getting everyone back in office, thinking that will solve the problem. In office is up to about 50%. But financial services has been cutting heads like crazy and relocating many operations to cheaper areas, so there’s that erosion. Crime and perceived danger (perception is reality for most cities) isn’t helping.
@Dee, I see you’ve been listening to Curtis Sliwa. He has a great talent for creating spot-on nicknames for politicians.
You betcha…and he has Adams’ number, as he flails and ‘salsas’.
“Yah, I suppose that if a company is stuck with a 3-year lease, making workers come into the office helps pay off that lease better than if they stay at home for the remainder of the lease.”
Shouldn’t managers choose whether or not to return to the office on the basis of improved productivity alone? It’s higher productivity that will pay off that lease easier.
@Tim: That was sarcasm. Sorry if it didn’t come through. I agree with you.
Dee, I’m absolutely not an expert on commercial real estate, but I thought leases had buy out provisions. The only leases I’ve dealt with were residential for apartments I lived in, and they had provisions to buy out the lease.
Idk…are employers planning to insist on in office or hybrid work until the end of their lease(s)? What then?
In NYC there is either no buyout but you can sublease, or the buyout is so ludicrous that you may as well stay. Residential…no buyout. It’s a different market. Thus the pressure to get people in the office, but they have to be vaxxed, fares are going up, and shortly can’t drive in due to congestion pricing! And if you live on Long Island, your train schedules are totally messed up due to the expansion of LIRR to Grand Central.
What employers don’t get is that if they go remote, their worker pool becomes far larger–at least the entire DMA or even the full time zone. For employers who have a global workforce, most have an agreed ‘live’ time. I’ve seen this not work out–worked briefly for a company where UK employees would pull Keyser Sozes and not be available in US PM time while forcing their India employees to work well into the night/early morning their time. My own preference is that my team is in the US, internal clients can be anywhere, but my boss is not in another country.
I think the revolution with remote work will come as knowledge workers leave the tech hubs for areas with a better quality of life, and a much lower cost of living. Getting paid a third of what they were making, and having more money left over at the end of the month.
SMBs will be able to afford these people…they will start having access to top-tier talant at a reasonable price.
I equate it with cloud technology, where SMBs can access data resources that, at one time, could only be afforded by large corporations.
SMBs don’t quite get that yet. I have found them (I’m in healthcare tech/edu as a vertical, and marketing and communications as my area within it) rather insistent on purple squirrels, which is funny since a lot of my experience is small unit/restarts/Series B and I am kind of a purple squirrel in many respects. A lot of these early-stage SMBs also have young or ethnic founders who want a workforce that looks like them and can get away with it.
And generally, you can’t live anywhere in the US on 1/3 much less have money left over, nor will top talent discount themselves by 2/3rds. Not with inflation at 10%.
I had a job with a company with locations in 40 states, Canada, and across the Pacific for nearly seven years. For the first four years, my managers were based at headquarters in a city four time ones behind mine. My next manager lived only two time zones behind. There were no problems with this arrangement. The first job did need to be office bases. In my position for the next five years I was require to worked in the office even though little of it was necessary and even though two of my counterparts worked from home. The exception was if I was on travel (when I had to finish up all my regular daily work in a hotel room at night). I endured years of commuting in Washington DC’s horrible traffic all the time thinking it was totally unnecessary. The only plausible reason for my director forcing me using the office to work is that the company had long leases in expensive office buildings and the cost for my space was being charged to her budget whether I used it or not.
This director did not herself regularly work in headquarters. She lived two time zones east and was supposed to work there one week month. I think she madde it every two or three months. Much of the rest of thetime, it seems she would find some reason to visit one job site or another staying in nice hotels and collecting per diems.
So many of us have endured long commutes, and if Covid taught us anything, it was that we could do the job without that hassle and be more productive, as well as healthier humans.
Employers now feel they have the upper hand since white-collar/managerial jobs are now at a premium with layoffs and cutbacks affecting far beyond tech and healthcare. So both salaries and contract rates are plummeting–I’ve seen contract gigs (e.g. Verizon, naming the guilty) being pulled back and same JD even same number pumped back out and repriced @ $10/hour less. So our leverage is a lot less than a year ago, despite the faked-up employment numbers.
I will add to that another dodge–decent rate but cutting the hours back to part time maxing out at 20 hours per week, but writing the JD for an FTE.
You can see by reading the many thoughtful responses that we workers are in flux. I was working from home prior to The Plague, so no changes for me. Historically, things change periodically and everyone adjusts. This goes back to the advent of 5-day work weeks, 8 hour days, and so forth. It will all settle out eventually.
If you look at the situation a few years ago, it’s completely illogical. We all pile into metal transport pods, drive (very slowly) from where we live to where we work, then repeat the process in the evening. Who would ever design a system like this?
As a geezer with retirement on the horizon, I can only say that there is currently no way to replace personal interaction in the office. See Nick’s comment about the New Kid taking lunchtime walks with the boss. Eventually this may not matter – iGens rely on anti-social media for interaction and it doesn’t seem to bother them one bit.
However it turns out, the future is bound to be interesting. And maybe good for the worker bees.
@Larry B: Brings to mind an old curse — May you live in interesting times!
Nick, you are spot on about the whole “exceptions” thing. And thanks for reminding us of Melissa Mayer debacle.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes in my work group. People with really good, and sometimes TEMPORARY needs to work from home are being told: tough cannolis your request is denied.
Others get through, so the process is completely arbitrary.
I just knew this would ALL boomerang back, or at least there would be attempts. It was just too good to be true forever.
Salesforce had just opened the tallest tower in San Francisco.
Apple opened their “Spaceship” campus not too long ago (the stories about people walking into all the glass walls made me laugh)
my company moved to a new location about 3 years before the pandemic, and spend a ton to retrofit the building with all this collab space that is now mostly empty.
All of those examples went ALL IN with remote work and praised us constantly for our focus and achievements while WFH. My company made BILLIONS and grew the business in a huge way. We could literally do no wrong.
Then it’s like some Grand Poohbah of Business held forth to say: “OK, pandemic is over. Get those butts back in the office chairs downtown”.
And everyone is getting in line. Even companies who outloud said they would keep remote work options, and people moved between states creating a real conumdrum if there is no ‘local office’.
It’s about the R.E. but they will never ever say that out loud (except to their BoDs, executive leadership, investors, etc.)
What’s next? RESIST, any way you can. When I’m in office, I keep a straight 8 hour sched bc of the time I’ll spend in east coast traffic getting home.
I honestly don’t believe that most companies give a rat’s patootie about the workforce. It’s all about stock options or RSUs or whether they’ll buy or be bought by another company. People are replaceable assets and the tech / large company layoffs just reinforce that. The Great Resignation turned into the Great Layoff in a heartbeat.
FYI you are right about the 8 hours onsite, as long as you don’t couple it with another few hours at home. The worst companies are the ones who want you onsite 10 hours and then want you reachable and producing 24/7. Fine if you signed up for that, but otherwise no sale.
@Tech Worker: Tech companies like Apple that make technology marketed as tools for working remotely make me roll my eyes. So many of them are denying their employees the freedom to work from home. Perhaps Apple et al. know something about their products that they’re not telling their customers?
They don’t know how to manage work and workers remotely. That’s the crux of it, and likely aren’t strong about managing per se. It’s not rocket science. If a manager knows how to manage by results, when and where it’s done is irrelevant. As long as those doing so include ensuring that they don’t derail others by selfish work habits…e.g not being available when or where needed.
Management mandates signal a management that lacks this ability and savvy, oblivious to productivity factors, as well as their mistrust and related insecurities.
There’s much talk about diversity. While it’s not fashionable to include diverse working arrangements in that pile, it’s there. And the form it takes to maximize productivity, and to best balance one’s life and work, is best done by the individual. And the technology to do so, is getting better all the time.
For executive management, It’s as simple and difficult as this. Find the right people, properly resource them, then get the Hell out of the way. Manage by exception, those who aren’t delivering the goods. Busy yourself by being leading the way with good workable strategies so everyone isn’t wasting their time on dead end directions. Which by the way can be done remotely.
This has been quite amusing. Employees ruling the roost, and upset they will have to return to the office to work… CEO be damned for making the decision even though he’s the boss; and doesn’t need to offer any explanation for what he’s doing. If you don’t like it, there’s the door. Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you. It should be good for you to find work that you can do while in the comfort of your home. Gauging productivity is based upon what aspects: sales, processing administrative work, conflict resolution, case load, etc. Not everyone can WFH. And the face-to-face interaction is lost — as telecommuting, emails, texting, faxes, etc. are impersonal. You’d think that with all the forms of social media, including LinkedIn, we’d be able to draw closer, stronger relationships. But we haven’t. We’re more divided today than we were prior to the “plan”demic. That’s an issue for a different discussion as it’s being shown that the shutdown was the wrong decision made. So it’s time to pull up your big boy or big girl pants, and get back to working.
P.S. I have no empathy for someone driving two hours to and from work. That’s your decision. And those who live in expensive cities? That’s again your decision. All these issues rank up there with folks fighting for a higher minimum wage (aka Living wage). Inflation has surely eaten up any gains achieved in that long fruitless battle.
P.P.S. Has anyone received their $10,000 student loan forgiveness check yet? — those of you with over six-figures in student loan debt. Shaking my head, and rolling my eyes…
Regards, Chris A.
Yes I agree Chris, why should the convenience of employees be the sole consideration?
Particularly regarding government departments, the public is currently getting lousy service. Folks have been waiting forever to get passports etc. We (the public) don’t matter, only what the employees prefer.
For example, a couple of weeks ago I had to phone a government department because they had really messed up. While waiting for an agent their recording stated that certain employees might be using a cell phone, even having the audacity to state that by staying on the line we are accepting that they might be using a cell phone, even admitting the fact that use of cell phones is less secure for sensitive information, which is characteristic of the nature of most of their calls. There is currently no option to actually see an employee of the government department face to face.
The first person I got through suddenly disappeared after a few minutes, i.e. cell phone call dropped. Second individual was unable to hear me when returning to my call after putting me on hold. Failed to be able to hear me, even after numerous attempts to address connection problem.
The third agent agreed that we should be able to go to their office and discuss the problem with someone face to face. I was assured that a copy of the document I originally mailed was going to be mailed to me right away.
Well it is now two weeks later and the promised document has not arrived. So I wasted over two hours on the phone getting nowhere. If I could actually meet with someone face to face, with the pertinent documents in front of us, it could probably be addressed within a few minutes.
So where on earth does the data come from that purportedly supports the claim that they might be even more productive working from home. I’m wondering if their dog ate some of the paperwork that I originally sent.
Again: That’s poor management.
There have been productivity problems in government offices since time immemorial. Ever wait in line at the DMV?
Chris, you’ve managed to string every cliche about remote work and workers into one post. Congratulations!
P.S. I don’t believe many posters here are worried about student debt, unless it’s their children’s.
You are right. CEO are the bosses and hav the prerogative to command everyone to have feet on the ground in their companies.
But something in that command strikes me as akin to King Canute commanding the tide not to roll in. Also it smacks of a change resister’s observation “But we’ve always done it this way.”
I think this whole in-the-office vs work-from-home debate signifies that there’s a change in the wind. It’s not going away nor should it.
Successful companies will move from getting the work done at a company facility to a hybrid of that & whatever else works best to meet their missions.
And whether or not a C Level suite likes it or not, they have to recognize and actually get involved within the challenges of (horrors) recruiting people who will want to work for them. that is, put substance into that oft repeated prospectuses claim “our people are important”.
Remember, while you exercise your prerogatives to deal with what you perceive as a problem by demanding people come to work, you will have
competing CEOs who view it as an opportunity to effect skills advantages and send a message that says “we’ll work with you on defining your best work/life balance.”
Just remember on both sides of the table ..be careful what you wish for. CEOs that demand working with past business models may find they’ve severly restricted their labor pools, and contributors who insist on remote work options may find they’ve expanded their competition & taught corporations they can find good people anywhere other than where you live.
Thanks Don, you wrote the answer to Chris A. that I wish I’d written!
I think Chris A., and a lot of C level executives, are in denial with respect to the long term labor shortage in the United States. The attitudes that Chris A. expressed worked quite well for companies when there were lots of baby boomers available to fill positions. But guess what…there are fewer boomers available every day because of retirements and deaths. (And Covid didn’t help with that.) And there aren’t all that many younger people coming up behind them.
This demographic crisis has been apparent since the 80s, but since it was a long term problem, companies ignored it. While at the same time, ensuring it was as difficult as possible to work full time and raise children (no mandated maternity leave until FMLA, and that’s still unpaid and limited, little to no onsite day care, no flexible work arrangements, etc.)
Executives who continue to use staffing models for their businesses from the 1980s will have enormous problems with recruiting and retention. Adapt, or go out of business.
Employers, at least in healthcare and health tech, are back in the bad old days of “you are lucky to even talk to us”, The funding spigot is off and they are laying off. Ghosting is way up. I got called in for interviews with two health tech companies, both mid senior marketing positions, and one exec begged off due to family illness, and never rescheduled despite repeated follow up, and the other told me that they had too many people moving to 2nd stage group interviews (apparently the search had been going on for awhile, which I didn’t know…I was called in 24 hours after it was listed) so I was “paused”. Had an interesting dialogue with the COO of the company about this practice! Typical Cali company that wants to be humane etc. And she wanted me to “understand”. Snapped back that I didn’t.
I would be glad to let your door close freely without hitting my rear. I’d be outta there so fast………..
I work in IT at a large university hospital in NYC. They sent us home at the beginning of the plague, except for a few who had to still come in to service microscopes and on-site computers (one of whom we lost to Covid). Most employees are back on a hybrid basis. I’m still 99.99% remote, and I love it.
I’m not a big fan of the plague, or of being cooped up at home all day every day, but working remotely has been a tremendous plus for me. I can still do at least as much as I could beforehand, I save about 2 hours each day in commuting, probably at least $100/month in MTA fares, I have eliminated eating out for lunch, I can be home for deliveries that require signatures, I can do my laundry during lunch hour. Before the pandemic, my “office” was a crowded, shared, secure space (we work with PHI), with 2 or 3 others sitting close by, all of us with our own phones, and so I had colleagues yakking full-voice 3 feet away from me about unrelated material, and customers banging on the door when they had problems that needed immediate attention, while I tried to concentrate on solving software engineering problems.
Now my office is my apartment, which I have to myself. It’s pleasant, it’s quiet, I have all the gear set up exactly as I like it, I can think and work in peace and quiet, and I can do more now than I ever did onsite at work. I do like coming in occasionally for some human contact, but all in all remote work is wonderful.
Rick–your security in the shared space sounds like it was close to zero, working with PHI, with people’s voices easily overheard and any casual visitor able to see screens. A strong added point is that your remote workspace is far more secure.
Well, it’s not quite that bad – the office itself is pretty secure, physically isolated from the rest of the floor, no one can see in, the door locks electronically as soon as it closes, and the room is only accessible to qualified staff members. Unfortunately for the work environment, it’s crowded, they’re all working on stuff unrelated to what I do, taking calls, etc., which was really distracting.
I’m torn about this.
For developing software, getting a team in a room together so people can bounce ideas off each other is great. Conversations you overhear are likely to be relevant. And I have yet to see a virtual whiteboard that works as well as a physical one.
Second best is a private office, which lets a developer concentrate. Work from home can be this.
A distant third is the open office setup. At a company that built a spiffy new building that looks great in photographs. Big open spaces with no ceilings, so you can see the structural elements and ducting. The ambiance of working in that space reminded me of being in the train station beneath Frankfurt airport. But the C-levels and HR – who have private offices because they do confidential stuff – think it’s great.
Another problem with these big, open offices, with people elbow to elbow, colds, flu, and stomach viruses get passed around like crazy.
This happened at a place I worked at. Everybody got a stomach virus shortly after they started. It happened to me; I’d been there a month and was embarrassed to have to call in sick, but my boss told me it happened to everybody.
I worked contract in a company that had my floor housing a subsidiary as a showcase of the future for the rest of the building which was in windowless high walled cubes with few private and mostly windowless offices. Turned out it created a lot of animosity. When corp management pulled the plug on the subsidiary 18 months ahead of time, most were fired immediately with only a very few (not me) staying on.
Tim, I’m an oldie who spent decades in software development, and I can relate to your points. I’ve worked in all those environments and combinations of them.
In my experience the “room together” mode is a major plus in the earliest stages of a project, but after you get past that & it’s time bear down and do the work, it can be counter productive to stuff everyone together in a room, even a large one.
Over all that’s where the private space works best. One with a door. A door is a great invention. An open one says I’m available, a closed one says I’m busy leave me alone.
But times are a changen. And I look in my crystal ball & it says a hybrid work environment is the way things are heading, Hybrid venues, time zones, work days & I think successful enterprises will figure out to best balance that out for individual and company success. Those that can’t or won’t will not last.
And the techies will develop the tools and processes that effect the closeness where needed, openness where needed and respect and value the privacy that’s needed.
Somewhat related to your 1st point I also think one of the reasons outsourcing has problems is that when projects are farmed out, what gets left behind is what I call the “hallway” factor, the unplanned, casual debates & related idea exchanges.
To beat a dead horse:
1. Some managers/companies use the incorrect metric of “number of hours at work” when the metric should be “how many units of work were done.”
2. Companies for years (decades now) moved labor offshore partly to take advantage of the disparity in COL (i.e. People can afford to take a lower salary elsewhere). They told us it was A Good Thing(tm) and that people here needed to adapt.
When people were able (forced) to work from home, and moved from NYC/SFO out towards Peoria, because of COL, companies then said “Except, don’t adapt like that.”
3. I contended, at the beginning of the Pandemic that WFH could be a net benefit to companies. They were forced to re-imagine how to do business and could save money on commercial real estate, utilities and what not.
David, and also pick from a wider and more experienced labor pool. But as mentioned above, there’s a lot of political pressure on CEOs with businesses in urban cores to move everyone back in to prop up commercial RE values and surrounding businesses, plus to have a good look in DEI. And there’s always a group that doesn’t want to WFH. Results and business be damned!
Good point. I also wondered at the beginning of the Pandemic how commercial real estate (and real estate in general) would hold up, more so than a more normal economic downturn.
I mean, if workers were anywhere as productive as in the office, it begs the question, why are companies spending all that money on real estate and utilities?
“In reality, we see the opposite trend. U.S. productivity jumped in the second quarter of 2020 as offices closed, and stayed at a heightened level through 2021. Then, when companies started mandating a return to the office in early 2022, productivity dropped sharply in Q1 and Q2 of that year.”
on topic, if you missed it
Amazon lost $2.7 billion last year and FTC is itching to take them to Federal Court on multiple charges. These employees put themselves on a layoff list which currently is 18k.
One aspect getting some coverage lately is the destructive effect WFH is having on formerly solid Downtowns and their businesses. Some research has been done on this known as “The Donut Effect.” (The center gets hollowed out while the outer suburbs get more populated.)
It’s sad to see some of these places permanently disappear like delis, independent coffeeshops, and personal care salons which had a steady stream of office worker clientele. Gone are both private and public sector thanks to WFH. Now these storefronts are boarded up and plagued with homelessness.
Some who’ve tried to open the suburb equivalent of those revered city steakhouses say it just doesn’t have the same vibe, especially the after hours exchanges for business purposes.
Not everyone wants to or can work remotely.
Moreover, even if the commute is eliminated, some are expected to be reachable 24/7. In some of those jobs requiring physical presence, it’s also a mental benefit to make it obvious in a polite way, “I’m currently not available.” (Or alternately, “You deserve a 16-hour break today.”)
OK, I confess I had the means to write this 15 miles outside a California city — it’s all about the tradeoffs!
Our city has had a “Homeless Zone” started as an attachment to its “struggling but improving” downtown. Sad but I feel it may eventually take over the whole of downtown.
My current client is in Tokyo. We both understand that it would require an 18-hour flight one way to spend a couple of days in the office.
Manhattan is becoming one giant homeless zone with plenty of crazies stabbing and defacing. NYC is spending $5 million per DAY on housing and feeding illegal migrants with no end in sight…who then go on the subways and streets to beg. And companies wonder why no one wants to go back to office?
It’s just an I’ll follow the leader situation. They all go remote during the pandemic and over hire. Then they all panic and start laying off like crazy and decide the organization cannot exist without everybody being in the office.
Nick, it’s a cabal. Reminds me of the collusion back in the 2000s where many silicon valley companies secretly planned to not hire each other’s employees. I swear it’s the same mentality, the same desire to control.
Exactly! It’s like everyone get the Covid jab or lose your job, or not be considered as an applicant. It’s about control. Nothing to do with getting COVID.
here’s a nice summary of the remote vs office scenario (scroll)
One thing here no one else has commented on…how exactly are remote workers in a better position today in 2023 versus January/February of 2020? If a remote worker doesn’t have to be physically present at any company property, do they even need to be in the same country? I don’t see how someone working from home during the pandemic and today is safe from having their job outsourced. In fact, I would think that the remote workforce is more vulnerable to being outsourced overseas in comparison to the rest of the workforce. It doesn’t matter if the job involves healthcare or IT or engineering, customer service, or anything else; almost all remote jobs, like 99% or so, are basically gone within 5 years from now if you ask me. The only ones left would be the ones that for legal or technical reasons require that the person be in the USA.
@Xstate: You could be on to something, but that assumes remote workers here in the U.S. are interchangeable with overseas workers. Just because a company can outsource a remote job doesn’t mean it is willing to. I think it’s fair to guess that most Americans working remotely were at one time working in their employer’s building. That in itself makes them different from overseas workers who have never worked on the inside. We could debate this, and maybe I’m wrong — but over the past decade I believe U.S. employers, especially in tech, learned the hard lessons about managing overseas labor effectively. Just as an example, the maximum time difference within the continental U.S. is 3 hours. To Asia could be 10. That by itself changes the management challenges. I just don’t see it, but your argument is worth talking about.
I’ve gone through this whole cycle, & was around when the tech companies started doing local outsourcing then offshoring. . And I worked on the other end of the 10 hour + cycle.
it’s something like a cycle. Step 1 is sans any experience in even outsourcing locally, a company will offshore. The bean counters have a big influence on this because the #’s look sooooo good.
2. They find a vendor & perhaps even a “partner” offshore, cut a contract, thinking it will work just like everything’s in house. Bang away on it and find out schedules slip, have quality issues, worse yet, design issues etc arise. When they want shortfalls corrected, they find that it will cost them. The vendor is spec focused. Not in the spec. Will do as specified. No more. So new spec(s) more applicable costs. What doesn’t move is the informal hallway meetings, ongoing adjustments, death march work schedules that brute force what’s needed to be done to minimize slippages.
3. Utilizing outsourced and offshored resources is an acquired managerial skill & a different biz model. companies can either hang in there and get better at it, or inshore it back (back to the future)
There are many corporations around who have gotten burnt and will not do business with support partners, consultants etc and worse, clients if offshore resources are involved.
But the offshore companies, residing the in Philippines, India, et.al are doing fine at this, there’s ample new takers. And some get very good at it, even are absorbed into a client as a subsidiary or division.
What I mused about was this recent or still existing concept of quiet quitting. Persist and the idea of offshoring becomes attractive & the job you quietly quitted from, quietly moves to some other part of the world.
They can always export the jobs to Central or South American countries. From what I have seen most companies don’t seem to care whether the quality of the outsourced employees is good or not just so long as they work. They are laying off people (remote workers included) at the local hospitals here and sending quite a few jobs overseas right now, like about 400 – 500 if I remember right. If they can’t lay off remote workers right away they eventually will for the most part. It’s just a trend in employment going back maybe 30 – 40 years.
“……. CEO be damned for making the decision even though he’s the boss;….”
Someone needs to wake up and leave the 1950s behind ….