Remote work has become increasingly popular in recent years as we’ve gone through a global pandemic, and I believe both employers and employees have realized the benefits it can offer.
However, some employers are starting to reverse this trend and are beginning to force employees to return to the office. These drives range from (perhaps a less common) full 5 days a week returns, to (perhaps more common) hybrid approaches like ‘3 days in, 2 days out’.
In my opinion these employers are making a mistake. Remote work provides benefits for employers and employees, and the forced movement back to in-office attendance neutralizes them without providing equal benefits back.
Benefits of remote work for employees and employers
- Employees have better work-life balance. When employees work from home, they can save time and money on commuting. They can also set their own hours and work from anywhere in the world. This gives them more flexibility and control over their work-life balance.
- Employees are more productive. Studies have shown that employees who work from home are more productive than those who work in the office. This is likely because they are able to work in a distraction-free environment and they are more likely to take breaks.
- Employees save money. They can save on commuting costs, keeping an office wardrobe, or even move further from city centers saving on.rent or mortgages.
- Employers save money. Employers who allow their employees to work from home save money on office space, utilities, and other expenses. They also save money on employee turnover, as remote employees are less likely to leave their jobs.
For employers, remote work can help them access the best talent, regardless of location. It can also help them save on office space and other overhead costs. For employees, remote work can offer a better work-life balance, more flexibility, and the ability to work from anywhere in the world.
Why Employers Should Not Force Employees to Return to the Office
There are a number of reasons why employers should not force their employees to return to the office.
It removes all cost savings
However employees were saving money working from home, it won’t work hybrid.
- Saving on Transit passes - they’ll still need to buy Monthly tickets.
- Saving on rent? - lots of people moved further from the office and saved on housing costs, they will need to return to the same area they lived before or pay more for transit costs. In fact, homeowners moving back face higher house prices and interest rates, leading to much higher housing costs than before.
However employers were saving money, it probably wont continue in hybrid.
- Saving on office space - asking all their staff to come back means keeping the same capacity of desk spaces, meeting spaces, etc.
- Saving on employee turnover - Hybrid isn’t remote, it remains to be seen how turnover will be affected.
It is bad for morale
Forcing employees to return to the office can damage morale and lead to turnover. Employees who are forced to return to the office may feel resentful and disengaged. It can be also be viewed by employees hired during the remote period a reneging on their agreement.
It is unfair to employees.
Employees who have been working from home successfully for the past two years should not be forced to return to the office. This is especially true for employees who have young children or who have health concerns.
There is no evidence that working from home is less productive than working in the office. In fact, studies have shown that employees who work from home are more productive. I suspect that the least productive employees are the ones who have to keep moving their work location between the office and home, packing up their equipment, notes, comforts etc, or just doing without them to make life simpler.
What should employers do?
In short - embrace remote work!
Remote work does require a change in culture. In order to be successful, remote teams need to be able to communicate and collaborate effectively. They also need to have a strong sense of community, even though they may not be in the same physical location.
How to Create a Remote-First Culture
There are a number of things that employers can do to create a remote-first culture. Here are a few ideas:
Invest in communication tools.
Make sure that your team has access to the best communication tools, such as video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management software. Whoever you get your collaboration software from, make sure you’re getting the most out of it. Most companies have something like Google Docs or Microsoft Office, but might benefit from expanding to other types of of collaboration software like Miro or Mural to help them brainstorm in real time too.
Set clear expectations.
Make sure that your team knows what is expected of them, both in terms of their work and their communication. Make these expectations about the work, not just the timing. Obviously if you have synchronous practices like whiteboarding exercises or video calls then everyone has to be online at the same time, but asynchronous work shouldn’t be measured in which hours were spent working, but on output produced by a meaningful (not arbitrary) deadline.
Create opportunities for your team to collaborate on projects, even if they are not in the same physical location. Again documents, presentations, or sticky note exercises can all be worked on in real-time by groups of people in digital tools. Ensuring people have these tools, and the supporting necessities (like multiple screens, webcams, etc) is key.
Find ways to build community within your team, such as through regular team meetings, social events, and online forums. This could be virtual team rooms for working, or virtual happy hours for socializing. Keeping these informal and optional spaces for people to build a trusting team environment is important.
Remote work can be a great way for employers to access the best talent and save on costs. However, it is important to create a remote-first culture in order to be successful. By investing in communication tools, setting clear expectations, encouraging collaboration, and building community, employers can help their remote teams succeed.
Forcing people back to the office when they’ve been succeeding at home for the past couple of years could be doing a lot more harm than good. Trust your teams, support them, and work with them to make them productive where they’re happy working and you could get more productivity for less money