As stated in a recent Fortune article, just 3% of white-collar workers want to return to the office five days a week. This is from a poll by management consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates, which also warned employees will quit if bosses force them back full-time.
A full 86% of employees want to work from home at least two days a week, the consultancy said after surveying nearly 10,000 people around the world across areas including finance, technology, and energy. All age groups felt the same way, they added. Workers reported a preference for commuting into cities on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, raising the prospect of empty offices for the rest of the week.
“Employers have to realize that the genie is out of the bottle,” Andrew Mawson, managing director of AWA, said in a statement. “Workers have seen that flexibility can work and bosses who are not sensitive to their employees’ needs will suffer accordingly.”
The False Premise of Office Work
Why are so many old-line executives focused on forcing employees to come back to the office? As Morgan Stanley’s CEO, James Gorman, famously said last year: “If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office. And we want you in the office.” Arguments I’ve heard about the need for employees to return to the office focus on three areas:
- Company Culture.
“People need to be in the office to experience the company’s culture.” For example, a senior spokesperson for JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon, stated last year that learning from others as an apprentice “is almost impossible to replicate in the Zoom world” and he worried this could “dramatically undermine” the character and culture a company is attempting to build. While this on the face of it seems logical, recent research I recently conducted on worker pride suggested that there was no difference between the pride an employee has in their company whether they worked from home or from their company’s office. Career Advancement. “Out of sight, out of mind is a concerning problem for career progression.” As a Forbes article points out a lack of face time can create a lack of opportunity for advancement. Employees, especially younger employees, will miss opportunities to be known by upper management which could stymie their chance for promotions. While this is a legitimate concern, it certainly can be overcome with efforts by upper management to periodically seek out high-potential employees through networking activities and “skip level meetings” in which employees connect with higher ups to discuss their career aspirations and receive mentoring.
- Employee Trust.
The biggest reason, however, that isn’t discussed much is the issue of trust. Managers have a difficult time trusting employees that they can’t physically see. This could be true except for the advances in technology that enable instant and continuous communication between management and workers and between workers and workers, most notably Slack and Zoom. As my former professor, Dr. Peter Drucker, used to say about working from home: “The temptation to goof off is too great.” While this certainly can be true, advances in technologies allow work to take place in real-time from anywhere today. As a result, work is transitioning to where it can best be done by those who are most skilled and committed to do it.
The Final Verdict
Whereas work from home has the advantages of higher productivity, better autonomy, flexibility and work-life balance. Healthier lifestyles, more savings and lesser carbon footprint. It also has the disadvantages of a potential loss of company culture, challenges in advancement opportunities. Isolation with some difficulty in staying motivated and a lack of social interaction.
Employers need to remain flexible and be open to finding workable solutions that work best for their employees or else risk losing them. As Sam Bowerman, a human resources director for NatWest, an employer of 60,000 staff members, recently stated, “We’re keen to avoid mandating X number of days per week. So far we’ve seen no detriment to productivity and the flexibility has produced a lot of goodwill.”
Written by Dr. Bob Nelson, Ph.D.
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