Is Remote Work Really Coming to an End?
Recent headlines have called for an end to work-from-home options for employees. The employees beg to differ.
According to Gartner, the pace of employee turnover is forecasted to be 50–75% higher than companies have experienced previously. This issue is compounded by it taking 18% longer to fill roles than pre-pandemic.
Now’s the time for us to increase flexibility in the workplace and develop better ways to connect with remote and hybrid workers.
Instead of calling an end to work from home, we need to do the opposite. Now’s the time for us to increase flexibility in the workplace and develop better ways to connect with remote and hybrid workers. Rigid attendance policies and reduced worker flexibility will only make recruitment harder for companies in the coming years.
The belief that workers need to be physically present in an office to be productive and “part of the team” is false.
It’s part of a dying paradigm. Employees don’t need to be monitored and controlled to be productive.The Command and Control paradigm emerged from the industrial age, when workers created widgets on an assembly line.
Our work has evolved. Workplaces need to evolve as well.
Research by Gartner has found that 62% of employees in knowledge-based professions become high performers when given significant work flexibility, compared to only 27% of employees in similar roles with little flexibility.
Corporate CEOs, Baby Boomers, and those who are accustomed to an in-person workplace may be ready to call it quits with remote work. However, the vast majority of employees are not. In fact, a recent survey by Gartner found that only 4% of respondents said they would go back to the office full time.
“Only 4% of respondents said they would go back to the office full time.”
Critics of working from home say that employees aren’t making the necessary connections to experience the culture of the workplace. These critics even blame remote work, in part, for the Great Resignation of 2022.
I would argue that other factors are primary drivers for the Great Resignation, including the propensity for employers to create dead-end jobs that don’t foster employee growth and development, and rigid soul-sucking corporate cultures driven by profit over purpose. These types of environments don’t create the conditions for employees to thrive personally or professionally. As workers evaluate their lives post-pandemic, more and more are unwilling to settle for such a workplace.
One recent click-bait headline from CNBC reads, “Millennials and Gen Z – your days of remote work could be numbered.” In the story, author Steve Cadigan is cited. He’s a Baby Boomer and LinkedIn’s first chief HR officer and author of a new book, Workquake.
Steve says, “20 to 35, particularly the 20 to 29, 30-year-old age is really frustrated. Their sense of commitment to an organization where they haven’t met people in person, they haven’t been around, is much less than the people who are spending time together as we were before.”
Remote work policies, he goes on to say, “have also resulted in a disconnect between employees and their teams, fueling phenomena such as the Great Resignation. That, in turn, has led to greater fluidity in the labor market, which, while fine in good times, could be risky ahead of a potential recession.”
While there is some truth to his point about the disconnect more likely with fully remote work, Gartner’s solution is that “younger workers may need to return to the workplace — whether voluntarily or otherwise — to nurture those all-important relationships with both teammates and superiors.”
That’s easy for him to say. His solution will only increase turnover, and the phrase “voluntarily or otherwise” shows the Command and Control form of leadership that so many employees are sick of.
Emotional proximity is created when employees “feel seen and valued.”
This statement also ignores all the other ways employees can create connection with one another. Physical proximity — working in the same location is just one. What is actually more impactful, is creating emotional proximity with employees. Emotional proximity is created when employees “feel seen and valued.” This is a worthwhile area for growth for most managers and organizations, especially those leading remote or hybrid teams.
The fact is, there’s no going back for many workers today, including me. The unwillingness to report to an office was a major impetus to me launching my own business several years ago. If a job requires going into an office from 8-5, five days a week, I’ll pass, thank you very much. If a company is that rigid and inflexible, they’re not very innovative and I’ll go elsewhere. I know many others who feel the same.
55% of employees say their ability to work flexibly will impact whether or not they stay with their employer.
According to the recent Gartner survey of more than 4,000 employees:
- 39% of employees are likely to leave if you insist on a “hard return” — a wholesale return to a fully on-site experience.
- 55% of employees say their ability to work flexibly will impact whether or not they stay with their employer.
- Among employees who are currently working remotely or in a hybrid arrangement:
- 75% say their expectations for working flexibly have increased.
- Only 4% say they would prefer to go work on-site full time.
One case study that’s often referenced in this argument is that of Yahoo!. In 2013, Amy Mayer, then CEO of Yahoo! called for an end to remote work as part of her attempt to turn the struggling search engine around.
The proclamation went over like a lead balloon with employees and shareholders. According to a 2014 piece in the New York Times, more than a third of Yahoo’s staff left that year. One shareholder was so upset by the decision that he sent a 99-page presentation to the board giving reasons for her removal.
At the time, Richard Branson Tweeted, “Perplexed by Yahoo! stopping remote working. Give people the freedom of where to work & they will excel.”
“Give people the freedom of where to work & they will excel.”
~ Richard Branson
Yahoo! Ended up joining AOL and Amy Mayer’s role with the company ended. AOL, owned by Verizon, has a company Oath for employees. What is one of the benefits of that oath? You got it, working from home.
Employer-Controlled Workspaces Don’t Have to Determine Productivity or Engagement
During the pandemic, we learned that employer-controlled workspaces don’t have to determine productivity or engagement. Many employees are actually happier and more productive in their home environments. There are other benefits too, including less commute time, and more quality time with their friends and family, creating a more well-balanced human being.
Other countries are seeing the benefits of workplace flexibility. In fact, the Netherlands implemented a Flexible Work Act in 2016 and is now moving toward making remote work a legal right. And, the Dutch parliament approved legislation that forces employers to consider employee requests to work from home if their profession allows it.
Companies that Adopt Flexible Work Policies Have a Competitive Advantage
Instead of requiring full-time in-person attendance, there are other ways companies can create a connection to their employees and create a cohesive corporate culture. Companies leading for the future have developed flexible work policies, which include hybrid models that allow a combination of working from home with some time spent in the office .
Flexible work policies:
- Can increase employee engagement: Creating a human-centric organization that supports employees increases engagement.
- Make more talent accessible: The need for more work-life balance drive employees. Companies with flexible work policies tap into this need and are able to hire and retain talented, creative, and high-value employees.
Remote work options also allow companies to recruit outside of their geographic area, greatly increasing the number of potential applicants.
- Focus more on outcomes and less on activity: Companies will no longer achieve the best outcomes by requiring employees to punch a timeclock. They must optimize human capital. That means supporting the development of employees, engaging with them, and helping them to reach their full potential in alignment with company goals and initiatives. This is the secret to growth and innovation in the future.
- Increase diversity and Inclusion: Flexible work policies create a more inclusive workplace, which allows for more perspectives, ideas, and solutions resulting in a competitive advantage for companies.
- Create more environmental sustainability: Employees are more driven than ever by social and environmental causes. Having smaller physical office spaces creates environmental benefits, including lower energy usage.
Creating flexible workplace policies requires better leaders.
Leading with the old paradigm of Command and Control is less effective. Flexible workplace policies require leaders to take a more authentic, human, and empathetic approach to overseeing their people. While that is threatening for some, it’s the change that needs to happen. Leaders must evolve to remain competitive.
Remote work isn’t coming to an end. This is just the beginning.
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash
About the Author
Monica Bourgeau, MS, is a business strategist, futurist, and award-winning author. She is the founder and CEO of New Phase Partners, a consulting firm that helps innovative organizations create thriving workplaces that will help them lead into the future. Monica is a business strategist, futurist, and award-winning author. She is the founder and CEO of New Phase Partners, a consulting firm that helps innovative leaders create thriving workplaces, transform their workplace culture and emerge as industry leaders.