Office Mandates Create More Problems Than They Solve

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Employees have spent the last two years structuring their lives around the flexibility of remote work. They have no intention of going back.

One of the biggest changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic was the overnight change to remote work for most knowledge workers. The transition was jarring for many companies. While some businesses were ahead of the curve regarding remote infrastructure, many organizations were left scrambling to put solutions in place to make remote work possible. Leaders who were not accustomed to leading remote teams had to adapt quickly and not everyone got it right.

Now that it is safe for workers to return to their offices, business leaders are requiring employees to work from the office, in many cases five days a week. Unsurprisingly, there has been pushback as employees have discovered the benefits of remote work and other non-traditional work arrangements. Employees are choosing to leave their jobs rather than return to old ways of working. They have spent the last two years structuring their lives around the flexibility of remote work with no intention of going back.

A recent article published by the Wall Street Journal examines the office mandate implemented by UWM Holdings Corp. CEO, Mat Ishbia. UWM requires employees of the company to be in the office five days a week if they want to keep their jobs. Roughly 500 employees quit in response to the policy. Ishbia made it clear that they would not be missed, saying that the company would find competent replacements. He also remarked that “if you want to work from home and just kind of exist, and you have no growth opportunity—you don’t want to build your career and get to this next level and just want to be average—there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what a lot of people are.”

As a marketing executive who has spent half of my career working remotely, I disagree with the idea that choosing to work outside of a traditional office environment is a sign of mediocrity or stagnation. There are absolutely merits to having your team together in an office, but it’s hardly necessary to have everyone together every day. From my perspective, leaders who insist on having their teams in the office with them five days a week are more concerned with doing what is comfortable for themselves rather than doing what is best for their team. And by limiting your talent pool to only those willing and able to commute to an office every day, you are limiting the potential of your organization.

Flexibility over foosball tables

Many companies looking to bring their employees back into the office have added on-site amenities to sweeten the deal. The WSJ article mentioned that UWM had added two new buildings, shuffleboard courts, an on-site hair stylist and more to make a return to the office more enticing. What companies fail to realize is that for many workers, especially those with children, flexibility is much more important. People care much more about being able to meet their kids at their bus stop after school than they do about catered lunches or hair salons.

Remote work provides flexibility for employees. The notion that people need to be tethered to their desks all day to be productive is outdated. An article from Vox states that “there is objective data—like more calls per minute for call center workers, engineers submitting more changes to code, and Bureau of Labor Statistics data on growing output per hours worked—that has generally shown that people are, in fact, more productive working from home.”

As someone who has been working remotely since well before the pandemic, I can attest to feeling more focused and productive and accomplishing more work on most projects from home. It has also allowed me to spend more time with my family and enjoy more of my time outside of working hours since I do not need to waste part of my day commuting. Remote work has also shaped my approach to managing my own team. By focusing on outcomes rather than hours logged on their laptops, I can afford them flexibility in managing their lives and their workloads in a way that is most productive and beneficial for everyone.

Talent is everywhere

A survey conducted by Upwork of 1,500 hiring managers predicts 36.2 million workers or 22% of Americans will be working remotely. As work and learning move more online, new jobs, new skills, and new opportunities will be created. There are approximately 100 million knowledge workers in the U.S. representing about 60% of the labor force. As demand for these roles increases, companies can’t afford to leave talent behind.

Remote work eliminates the issue of workers needing to live within proximity to their jobs. For many roles, work can be accomplished from anywhere with a laptop and an internet connection. Software engineers, graphic designers and web developers, among other roles, can work just as well in Wyoming as they could in San Francisco or Manhattan. Similarly, a company looking to fill an open role may not find the best candidate in their area. If a business in Chicago finds a rock star candidate in Florida, why require them to uproot and move if they can do the job right where they are?

Remote work promotes equity

When businesses implement restrictive office-only policies, they are not only limiting their talent pool. Many of the largest and most successful corporations have their offices in major metropolitan areas. People that want to work for organizations with no remote work option must either already live within commuting distance or uproot their lives and relocate.

Concentrating top talent in particular areas of the U.S. creates pockets of opportunity and wealth that are only accessible to some. These same areas also tend to have a high cost of living, which puts financial strain on employees who must remain in those areas to keep their jobs. What’s more, even those who can commute are essentially taking a pay cut by returning to the office, given the rising cost of fuel and other transportation expenses.

When companies recruit remote talent from around the U.S., they will have a better chance of finding the best candidates for the roles they are trying to fill. And in doing so, they are spreading economic opportunities to more areas of the country. A recent report from Brookings notes that “by the middle of the last decade, a handful of dynamic coastal metro areas—most notably the Bay Area, Seattle and Los Angeles—had emerged as dominant hubs of both tech and the rest of the economy. By contrast, scores of heartland cities, small towns and rural areas were going sideways or falling behind on basic indicators of innovation, output and income.”

Remote jobs provide more and better opportunities for workers who live in communities with minimal corporate infrastructure. And by allowing these employees to stay where they are, companies are enabling them to invest in and empower their local communities.

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