A misguided push back into offices

The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in changes in work practices that have given employees unprecedented levels of flexibility – flexibility that I suspect employees won’t ever want to give up. Business leaders should be looking to find ways to retain this flexibility and build the future of the workplace around it. Unfortunately, some leaders are itching to return to a pre-pandemic, office-centric culture. This is misguided from a public health perspective. And it’s an approach that will set a company back from a competitive perspective, as well.

According to a recent New York Times article, some business leaders remain dead-set on bringing their workforce back to the office (some at full capacity) before we even ring in the new year. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal covered some companies’ rush to get employees working remotely back in offices. According to the Journal, Phillips 66 CEO Greg Garland believes a long-term remote workforce would cause creativity and productivity to suffer. And he’s not alone.

I have nothing against in-person collaboration, in fact, I certainly see value in it. But there’s a big difference between providing employees options (including access to offices, when they need to use them) and mandating a return to the office – especially during an ongoing pandemic. I doubt these leaders would admit it, but I believe a lack of trust in their employees is at the root of their concerns about prolonged remote work.

Being unable to monitor employees’ productivity from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and not having the opportunity to drop into an employee’s office frightens some leaders. As a result, according to the Times, some organizations are scrambling to essentially bribe their employees to return to the office – promising free lunches and reimbursing commuting costs, for instance. While these incentives are nice, what’s the point of going to these lengths just to get more people in an office (again, during a pandemic) when employees can be highly productive working remotely?

Benefits of a remote workforce

I’d argue for a more practical approach that accommodates employees’ lives, instead of encouraging them to rearrange their lives to suit the preferences of a company leader. Employees should be able to start and end work when they’d like and where they’d like (at home, in a coffee shop, even at the beach). This may sound too good to be true, but it works when employees are diligent and committed to producing results. In my view, it doesn’t matter where or when employees work, as long as they produce quality work ethically and hit their deadlines and goals.

Further, there’s a lot of hand wringing about the loss of culture among a remote workforce. I think these concerns are overwrought. After all, a company doesn’t make a culture, the employees do. Employees that enjoy flexibility will gravitate toward organizations that encourage flexibility. And since they will be in an environment in which they can thrive, they will organically build a positive culture of trust, support and self-discipline within these organizations.

As we move out of the pandemic, employees won’t want to give up the flexibility they enjoy today. I suspect the leaders that seek a return to pre-pandemic office culture will find themselves drawing from an increasingly limited talent pool.

The future of the workspace

Those of us who are moving toward a permanent flexible working culture are seen as risk-takers by these leaders. In reality, we’re just practical. We want our employees to get their work done on their own time and in their own style. And guess what? Our employees really like it.

If you missed my first blog post on a remote workforce, you can read it here: “A world without offices.”


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