After Almost Two Years Of Working Remotely, It Will Be Nearly Impossible To Demand People To Return To The Office
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in an email to his employees, “We are welcoming back tens of thousands of Googlers on a voluntary basis.” Pichai added, “We’ll extend our global voluntary return-to-office policy through January 10, 2022.” The date has been pushed back from a prior deadline.
Similarly, Apple once again pushed back its timeline for requiring its employees to return to work. The tech giant told its worldwide workforce that they won’t be required to return to their respective offices until January—or even later. The decision was based upon concerns over the sudden surge of the Delta variant.
Amazon also announced that it intended to delay reopening its offices until January 3. The online-retailing juggernaut was previously prepared to have its white-collar office staff return by September 7. Beth Galetti, Amazon chief human resources officer, said the company will “closely watch conditions related to Covid-19.”
Wall Street, which has a dominant role in New York City, differs with the Silicon Valley-based tech companies. Major investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan, have pushed hard to get people back into their offices. A survey by the Partnership for New York City reported that employers thought 62% of employees would return by the end of September. However, only “23% of Manhattan office workers came back to the workplace.” Those who did come back were mostly on a hybrid schedule for only around two days a week.
As time progresses, the sentiment changes. More workers are digging in their heels and demanding to remain working remotely. The survey showed that “employers are expecting a smaller return by the end of next month than they previously thought, [as] 41% of remote workers surveyed in both January and August said they want to be fully remote.” Nearly an astounding 90% of employers report that “employee perceptions of mass transit are still an obstacle to returning to the office due largely to concerns about personal safety (cleanliness of the system is less of a concern than in earlier surveys).”
To put things into perspective, there is an incentive to bring back workers. The ecosystem of restaurants, bars, nail salons, gyms, hair salons and a host of other retail shops and businesses heavily depend on office workers patronizing their establishments. Real estate landlords are especially concerned and desire workers to get back into the seats at the massive building they own.
Workers are understandably self-interested. During the almost two years that people labored at home, companies greatly benefited. Their stock prices have appreciably skyrocketed to all-time highs. Remote employees enjoyed a better quality of life.
At home, people have autonomy. They can set their own schedules. Our biorhythms are all different. Some people like to wake up early and start working right away. Others are night owls. In an office, you don’t have a choice. You’re forced into the 9-to-5 grind.
Being at home for so long, you’ve likely developed habits and a routine. This could entail doing yoga, riding a bike or going to the gym on a regular basis. You may have dropped off and picked up your child from school. For the first time in your career, you were able to take your daughter and son to ballet classes, soccer matches and other activities without having to sneak out of the office. Assignments were completed without a boss looking over your shoulder and micromanaging every move you made. You’ve finally tasted freedom—and it was wonderful.
Once you are ordered to go back to the office, this all changes. Your new and improved life will be gone. Instead, you will have to wake super early in the morning. It’s back to waiting for a bus or train in frigid, cold weather during the winter and suffocatingly hot summers. On mass transit, you’ll need to mask up and worry about who may or may not be vaccinated sitting around you. A person coughing makes you nervous. The two to three hour round-trip commute wears you down, especially as you forgot about how terrible it was.
After arriving in the city, you have to walk the crowded streets with people who could potentially spread the virus. In the office, you’ll keep on the mask all day long. There will be arguments between the vaccinated and people who haven’t gotten their shots. Managers will herd you into long meetings in stuffy conference rooms. Since most companies will have hybrid schedules. There’s a good chance that the people you actually need or want to work with are at home. What a waste of time, you’ll think. You feel that three hours of commuting time could have been saved, as you’re Zoom calling your colleagues.
After a 10-plus hour day, including the commute, you come home tired and irritable. There’s just enough time to eat dinner, watch some Netflix and go to sleep, only to wake up the next day and repeat this all over again. Although the corporate executives say it’s a hybrid model, we know they are only priming us for a full five-day workweek in the office. This all seems inhumane and tortuous after knowing that there’s a better way to work and lead your life.
It wouldn’t be surprising if people rebel against being told to get back to headquarters. Studies show that people would rather quit or give up a significant amount of salary to stay working remotely. As time goes by, it will get harder for companies to demand that you return. With talks of a Lambda and Mu variant, in addition to the Delta variant, companies may keep having to push back their return-to-work initiatives.
Ultimately, there will be a time when both the companies and workers agree that having everyone back in the office isn’t an attainable goal. We’ll likely have a large segment of the workforce remaining remote. There will be some people who’d like to go into the office a few days a week, as they enjoy the social aspect and feel it will offer the chance to get noticed by management, which will fast-track their careers. Younger workers may want to come into the office to gain a sense of the corporate culture, find a mentor, learn how the business operates and cultivate a network of alliances. There will also be a few folks who just want to get out of their homes and apartments and stay at the office full time.
However it plays out, we won’t be going back to doing things the “way we’ve always done it.”