Remote vs. In-Office: Why not both?

A growing number of employers are acting as though the pandemic is well and truly in the rear view mirror (the question of whether that’s true from a public health standpoint is one that I won’t get into here). More and more employees are being asked to return to their physical offices, and there are some interesting views emerging.

Perhaps most interesting is the polarized nature of those views. I’m seeing two camps, with very clearly delineated opposing positions.

The first consists of people who see the trends in hybrid and remote work as a temporary ‘blip’ in the business world, one which has blipped its way into the past and should now stay there. I’ll attempt to speak with the voice of this group for a moment:

“Companies just can’t operate properly if all their employees are working from home! How are you supposed to create a good culture, when nobody sees each other except on camera? Innovation doesn’t happen when people aren’t bumping into each other in the hallways. Nobody’s as productive at home as they are at an office. And what about their health?! They’re sitting around all day instead of walking around an office, eating whatever junk they have on hand instead of packing a healthy lunch. Work from home … bahhh, humbug!”

Then there’s the other camp. They saw the rise in remote work as the giant leap forward they were waiting for, and are clinging steadfastly to the belief that it’s here to stay. Once again, I’ll do my best to channel the voice of this group:

“Nobody wants to drive to work if they don’t have to. All that time commuting, what a waste … of money, and for the environment. When people work at home, they’re more relaxed and creative. Productivity? People get even more done than they ever did in an office! Anything you can do in a meeting, you can do in a video meeting. Do you even know how much time I’ve saved over the last two years from not being in meetings?? Companies who force people back to the office aren’t going to be able to find people to hire, simple as that. Working in an office … bahhh humbug!”

What seems strange, to me at least, is that each of these positions are so absolute. Everybody is this, nobody is that. All or nothing. Am I the only one who sees a lot of space in the middle ground?

About a year ago, I wrote some predictions about what would happen when companies started asking employees to return to an office – employees who had been allowed (or forced) to when the pandemic first struck.

I’m not one to say ‘I told you so’, so … well, I’ll let some data say it for me.

Survey Says …

Research firm Ipsos Reid conducted several recent polls*, in May and June 2022, asking people how their employer was treating a return to the office in this post-pandemic ‘new normal’, and also asking how they felt about it.

About 75% of the respondents have now gone back to their pre-pandemic working conditions. Whatever they were doing before, they’re doing that again. Only 12% of people who used to work in an office are still working from home, and another 8% are now hybrid.

Of those who are back in the office full time, 25% say that it’s because they weren’t offered an opportunity to continue working from home. I’ll say that again: one out of four people are back in the office because they have no choice. I think there might be some really interesting trends in employee engagement on the horizon for those companies.

Some of the people who got used to working from home really got to like it, too. 15% of people have switched jobs because they found a new one that allowed them to continue working from home. And of those who’ve gone back to the office – the ones who gave in with a Great Sigh of Resignation – 36% say they’d take a pay cut for a job that would let them go remote again.

But lest you think that I’m in Camp Two, an overzealous champion for the working-from-home crowd, let me share another side to the story. Many of the people polled gave other reasons why they’re working in the office now. 15% said they get more done there, the same number said they enjoy getting out of the house. 12% reported that they like seeing their colleagues (awww!), and 14% said they just prefer to work in person with others. A whopping 42% of respondents, in fact, said that what they learned from the pandemic experience is that they’re happiest working in their office, rather than at home.

What to make of all this, then? Well, it’s actually pretty simple.

Either-Or, Both-And

There are people who really enjoy working from home. They like the time and money savings resulting from the lack of a commute. They like being able to better integrate personal and family time with their work time. They find virtual meetings just as effective as in-person meetings, and get just as much work done, just as well, as they would in the office.

There are also people who really enjoy working in an office. They like keeping their work to a workplace. They get more done in an office because there’s a clear delineation between work time and home time. They enjoy the social camaraderie of seeing people they work with. And for them, the buzz of an office sparks creativity and fresh ideas.

Then there are a lot of other people who are a bit of both. They like the ability to work from home some days when they need to focus, and they also want to be able to plug themselves into the office environment when they need a hit of that energy.

This is why I don’t understand the views of Camp Office and Camp Remote. Like almost everything else in life, it’s not an either-or proposition.

In other words …

 

For companies who are able to move in this direction, the keyword is flexibility. What could happen if you provided the opportunity for employees to be in the office if they want to, and to work from home when they want to? How difficult would it be to set up processes and systems so that someone living hundreds – even thousands – of miles away could be just as effective an employee as the one who lives on the next block?

‘In Office’ isn’t the future. But the future isn’t ‘Remote’, either.

The future is hybrid, and companies who want to attract and hire the best employees are quickly and decisively moving in the direction of that future.

 

*This survey data is Canadian, but I’d bet that the results would be nearly identical, no matter where the poll was conducted.

 

Photo by Tamara Gak on Unsplash