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Why are companies pushing to get employees to return to the office? Why are workers resisting their calls? What’s the future of hybrid and remote work in the US?
US companies are urging or demanding that employees return to the office, but some workers are pushing back. Experts say that US work culture has permanently shifted, and that companies that work with employees to develop flexible policies will have the edge in attracting and retaining talent.
Continue reading for both sides of the argument on whether or not it’s time to end remote work.
Is This the End of Remote Work?
Major US companies are issuing stern ultimatums for employees to return to the office, but some workers are pushing back and saying they won’t. With neither side budging, a reckoning looms over where Americans will work in the years ahead.
Background on Remote Work
In early 2020, Covid-19 forced a rapid shift to remote work. As the pandemic unfolded, evidence suggested that remote work enabled a broader swath of people to contribute to the workforce—including people caring for family, working parents, and individuals with disabilities. Some studies also indicated that it improved worker productivity.
But now employers are requiring that workers return to the office, citing the need to rebuild company culture and collaboration opportunities and justify costly office space investments. For months, employers have tried to lure workers back to the office with perks like free lunch and game nights, live concerts, and relaxed dress codes. Some workers have responded by digging in their heels and signaling their strong preference for location flexibility: 90% of employees who are capable of working off site say they want it, and some are taking pay cuts, walking off the job, and quitting to get it.
But major corporations such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and even remote-work trailblazer Zoom aren’t backing down—now demanding that employees return to the office for two or three days each week and using the possibility of termination as leverage.
View 1: Returning to the Office Is Crucial
Many CEOs, managers, and economists argue that workers must return to the office now because remote work has resulted in:
- Productivity, collaboration, and company culture erosion.
- Younger staffers missing out on mentorship and skills development opportunities with experienced colleagues.
- Difficulty tracking and ensuring workers’ productivity.
- Local economies flagging. Experts say that downtown restaurants, transit, and other businesses have suffered from reduced foot traffic.
View 2: Returning to the Office Has Downsides
Many workers and some CEOs counter that strict office mandates are misguided and counterproductive to both workers and companies because:
- Employees are more productive and experience improved well-being when they work remotely.
- Talent recruitment and retention suffer when companies eliminate remote work options.
- Office costs are exorbitant, especially when utilization is low. Companies can save up to $11,000 per worker in overhead costs by allowing them to work remotely—and reduce their carbon footprint while doing it.
Further, some experts argue that although employers want more in-person collaboration, most hybrid work models fall short: Just 5% of companies are effectively using analytics to identify and stimulate the essential in-person interactions needed for collaboration. Businesses that analyze and use them effectively will be more successful than those that simply mandate arbitrary, in-office days for workers.
Experts say that work culture has permanently changed: The days of employers dictating five days a week in offices have passed and strict 9 to 5 office attendance will be rare going forward. Some assert that companies that collaborate with employees on flexible location policies that sensibly blend remote and office work will have the edge in attracting talent in the years ahead.
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