Reed Hastings hates remote work. The Netflix founder told The Wall Street Journal in September of 2020 that he didn’t see any benefits from people working at home. As he sees it, “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.” His opinion is widely shared in the C-Suite. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon called remote work “an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.” In an investment call criticizing employees who opt to work remotely, Morgan Stanley chief James Gorman said, “If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York. None of this ‘I’m in Colorado…and getting paid like I’m sitting in New York City.’ Sorry. That doesn’t work.”
Yet those feelings are less widely shared by their staffers. A survey of Morgan Stanley interns found that 72% of them in Europe favor flexible working along with 66% of their counterparts in North America. Apple scrapped their plans for a September 2021 reopening but that was due to a rise in coronavirus infections not pushback. Still, when the reopening was announced many of the company’s employees panned a mandatory in-office schedule requiring at least three days on-site. Facing a tight labor market, recruiters tell companies that candidates want to work remotely or don’t want to work for them at all. Over one-third of job seekers said they have declined or would decline a job offer that required them to work full-time on location, in an office, or at a worksite according to Jobvite’s 2021 Jobseeker Nation Report. Despite those challenges, many companies have demanded workers return to the office. So what’s my opinion? Here’s why remote working will die and here’s why it won’t.
Remote Working Challenges
Google famously started offering free food not as a cool perk but to encourage collaboration between staffers who didn’t share office space. Those serendipitous confabs are notoriously tough to foster on ZOOM. Execs claim corporate culture and innovation are threatened when staffers are fully remote. And although Millennials disproportionately suffered financially from 2020’s lockdowns, it was Gen Zers who endured diminished career prospects. That’s because it’s harder to learn a job when you only have a laptop for leadership. Internships may not provide the same value when they are fully remote. Without some radical innovation, remote working will die –– at least for new workers and those under the age of 30.
Isolation isn’t healthy –– humans evolved to require tight knit groups. If you have longtime work friends, keeping the relationship going when you’re working from home just means text chains and Happy Hour plans. Start a new remote job and your life starts to feel like the kid who ate lunch in the bathroom. Besides, not every worker likes being remote. They miss the camaraderie, they find their homes distracting. As WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani put it, “Those who are uberly engaged with the company want to go to the office two-thirds of the time, at least. Those who are least engaged are very comfortable working from home…People are happier when they come to work.” Is he right?
Save Time and Money: Go Remote
Long before the pandemic, a SurePayroll survey found that 86% of people prefer to work alone to maximize their productivity. Their sentiments were proven by 2020’s increase in productivity when most professionals were working remotely. For workers, remote work can mean eliminating the drudgery of a one or two-hour daily commute. Commuting not only increases your stress. One study suggested that people who commute by car have a 32% higher risk of early death. Heavy commuters tend to be heavier. This brings with it a whole host of health risks –– including COVID-19 as 78% of hospitalized patients were overweight or obese.
Not commuting saves money ––– not just from lowered gas and maintenance costs but many two-car families discover one is enough if both members are working from home. For companies, the savings come from having a smaller real estate footprint along with lowered utility and other costs. Besides AT&T reporting that it saved $30 million a year with its telework initiative, outdoor retailer REI sold its never-used headquarters to FaceBook for $360 million after most of its office staff went fully remote.
For the planet, it means lowered carbon emissions. A company that shouts about how “green” it is while keeping its workers on a strict in-office, 9-to-5 schedule risks looking like a hypocrite if they’re commuting or not caring about their health if they’re taking crowded public transit. Speaking of health, long before COVID, studies showed officer workers were getting sick more often. Turns out those energy efficient buildings are demons at not just trapping heat but airborne pathogens as well. Until they build facilities with working windows lots of workers would rather skip returning to the office.
The open office was widely unpopular as workers were distracted by bad smells, noise, and interrupting co-workers. Before the pandemic one study showed that
82% of remote workers said that working away from the office reduced their stress levels. I know of people in disparate fields from construction to entertainment for whom wining and dining seemed like part of their job description. The pandemic eliminated most of those in-person meetings and guess what? They still signed deals. Now they’re in no hurry to go back to the way things were. Neither are most people, That’s why I think remote work is not going to die. The companies who refuse to allow it, however, very well might.
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