A couple of weeks ago, The New York Times published an opinion piece about why remote work isn’t working. Since then, similar stories have run in Slate, CNBC, Gizmodo, and more.
To boot, Pew Research found that, while 35% of workers who can work from home do, that number is down from 43% in January 2022 and 55% in October 2020—but up from only 7% before the pandemic.
Essentially, only 29% more of us are working from home than before the pandemic. So much for adopting a remote workplace environment and staying that way.
My agency and team have been remote since 2011 after the Great Recession eviscerated my firm, and I had to give up our fancy downtown office digs. Only to learn a year later that NO ONE wanted to return to an office, including myself.
When the pandemic forced everyone home, we didn’t have a big change (well, work-wise, we didn’t…having to teach first grade at the same time was a pretty big change) because we were already accustomed to working in our PJs from our kitchen tables.
It’s not hard to work from home and engage a team remotely. Sure, it’s a bit more challenging to build culture, teamwork, and collaboration, but it’s not impossible. It forces you to be more creative and work to do those things when you might not have thought about it before. It’s ludicrous that so many are now saying, “Just kidding! I’d rather be in the office and see your faces every day, so you have to be there, too.”
People Are Quitting Their Jobs
I have a friend who works for a pretty big company. A company you’d know if I mentioned it. In 2021, they told everyone they were going to stay in a remote work culture and that they could work from anywhere in the world as long as they were available during east coast hours and their work got done.
So my friend packed up his family in New York, where he was officed for 20 years, and moved home to Salt Lake City.
Last week, the powers that be changed their minds and said everyone has to be back in the New York office by June 1. They gave them only two months’ notice.
Another friend had something similar happen. She didn’t move her family, but she did start a family. And she had not one, but two babies. They hired a nanny to be home with the kids for a few hours a day, and then she and her husband trade off the rest of the care since they both have the flexibility to work whenever, as long as their work gets done. She also was given only two months’ notice. I don’t know if you know anything about childcare, but getting into a daycare in less time than a year is almost impossible. Since she would have to be in an office, their current plan won’t work. After careful consideration, they decided she would quit her job to be home with the kids.
The Excuses Leaders Make
I’m sure you hear stories like this over and over again—and more are coming. The fact that so many leaders are backtracking on their once-in-favor-of-a-remote work culture is actually kind of shocking.
The New York Times talked to several dozen leaders about the tug-of-war between them and employees about going back to work, and they ALL (not some, but all) said it’s because operating from home is simply less productive than being in the office. They said collaboration is harder, as is mentorship.
Baloney. That’s a cop-out. As I mentioned, we’ve been remote since 2011, and I have found the opposite. People are far more productive working from home than in an office. And they’re happier, which creates a different kind of loyalty than we had in an in-office culture.
As for collaboration and mentorship, that’s also baloney. If leaders are finding that the case, they’re just not working hard enough at it, or it’s not a priority. That won’t change if they’re in an office. Either you’re good at collaboration and mentorship, or you’re not. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an office together or not.
We’re Just Not Working Hard Enough
The last thing the Times reporter found is that leaders plain old suspect people are not working hard enough. I can understand why they might say that because people are taking breaks during the day that they otherwise would not have, particularly pre-pandemic. They’re running errands, going to appointments, hanging out at school with their kids, exercising, doing housework, or even just walking the dog around the block. I see an unbelievable amount of people walking dogs during the day, while taking work calls. I do the same. That’s something that never would happen in an office.
All of these things were previously reserved for evenings, days off, or people had to take time off to get it all done. I will admit that, at first, this really bothered me, too. I wasn’t paying you to run around during the day, and I hated learning that someone was leaving their desk for a couple of hours in the afternoon to do whatever needed to get done in their personal lives.
But then I realized it wasn’t affecting job performance in the least. If anything, it improved. And because people were allowed to be the grown-ups I hired them to be, they went the extra mile to get their work done—often before deadline.
Now, if someone wants to take a mid-day hike, run to the grocery store, or get their teeth cleaned, all I ask is that they set Slack to offline so people know they won’t get an immediate response. I also eventually got over my personal guilt of leaving my desk during the day, and I do the same. Everything does get done, and life is generally less stressful.
Communicators Favor Remote Work
To get a better picture of how communicators are operating today, I asked the Spin Sucks Community if they are fully remote, hybrid, or in-office. Seventy-five percent said remote, 20% said hybrid, and 5% said in-office. A couple of people said the in-office mandate was new—and they are not happy about it.
But, for the most part, the industry seems to be working just fine from home.
In my estimation, and certainly after surveying the community, Steve Rattner, the author of the Times article, is wrong about why we all prefer to work from home. He says workers have “gone soft” and quotes JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon as stating that the remote work option appeals to individuals who don’t want to “hustle” as much as they should. Americans’ “work ethic” is lacking, Rattner says, especially in comparison to that of the Chinese, which he describes as “extraordinary.”
To illustrate that example, the Chinese work 996 – 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week, in an office. Gosh! That sounds wonderful. Let’s adopt that.
Remote Workers Are Not “Soft”
The American worker hasn’t gone soft. What we have all learned is that we can do our jobs in less than 10 hours a day with an hour (or more) commute on each end for a lot less expense and the opportunity to spend more time with our families and our hobbies. There are other economic reasons for us loving the idea of working from home or having a hybrid arrangement. The “middle class squeeze,” which speaks to the negative trends in the standard of living. It shows that increases in wages fail to keep up with inflation, so we’re not actually making more money—we’re making less.
Working from home and not having all of the expense that comes with commuting to an office provides the opportunity to make more money, even if wages don’t increase as much as one would like. We don’t have to pay for as much childcare or send our laundry out or have someone clean the house (though I will admit that one is the one luxury I will always have) or mow the lawn.
We can attend school events without missing a beat at work and can even go to the doctor or dentist without having to take PTO. We’re not soft. We simply have more time.
The Genie Isn’t Going Back Into the Bottle
The genie is out of the bottle. People who want to work from home are going to prioritize jobs where they have that kind of flexibility. For a bunch of leaders to sit in the boardroom and dictate employees to come back to the office—or else—is ludicrous.
All of the complaints about not being able to hustle or lack of collaboration or mentorship or the inability to brainstorm are just excuses. That can all be solved if you’re willing to put a little extra effort into it.
Certainly, there are times it’s a lot easier to do things in person. Those things can be reserved for quarterly or bi-annual team meetings. The day-to-day, though? Totally doable.