Is remote work here to stay after Covid-19?

Ask a colleague at the next desk a quick question, have spontaneous meetings to discuss issues, and know that everyone has a stable Wi-Fi connection.

These are just a few of the reasons 26-year-old James Rogers prefers to manage his team from the office rather than his kitchen table at home.

"For us as a company, the office comes first. I think we can be better when we work in the office full time," argues Rogers, who leads digital PR at the London branch of a British-American global content agency.

Since April, the company began giving employees the option of partially returning to the office.

"Our goal is for as many team members to return to the office as often as possible in the coming months, " he explains.

In the US, 72% of managers who supervise employees remotely prefer that all workers be in the office, according to a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management, when accessed by BBC Worklife.

A June survey by the UK's collegiate body of managers, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), showed that about half of managers expected staff to be in the office at least two to three days a week.

In Sweden, data company Winningtemp, with clients in 25 countries, says it is noticing signs of pressure to get back into the office, particularly in markets where there are high levels of vaccination.

"I see a lot of companies are forcing (a comeback)," says founder and CEO Pierre Lindmark. "They start saying, 'OK, you got the second shot, you have to be in the office.'

All of this is fueling debates about why bosses are rejecting remote employment methodology faster than many experts predicted, what this means for the future of remote working, and how it will affect employees who stick with their work routines. during the pandemic.

A need for control

Although working from home during COVID-19 demonstrated that employees were able to be productive, human resources experts note that many bosses experienced a loss of control compared to pre-pandemic times. And now they want to get it back.

"If you're with people, you feel like you can be in control, " says Lindmark. "You are not judging people simply by observing them on camera, you are judging them by looking at productivity, what is happening (in the office)."

Now that quarantines are over in many countries and vaccination rates are high, Lindmark notes that bosses are making a more "emotional" decision to get everyone back to the office.

But he cautions that this happens without them closely observing individual or company-wide performance over time, or without having a strategy for how this will affect employees.

"Managing a remote team is more difficult. It requires new skills. A lot of people got into this unprepared," adds Maya Middlemiss, author and specialist in remote work, based in Valencia, Spain.

"So it is not surprising that we are having a backlash and people who did not adapt well to that group management prefer to have everyone return (to the workplace)," he says.

 

Others, like media and business blogger Ed Zitron, believe that many bosses, especially in middle positions, are eager to regain a sense of status.

According to him, some no longer have the opportunity to appear important like when they went "from one meeting to another" and monitored what their teams were doing.

"While this can happen in Zoom and Slack as well, it becomes significantly more apparent who actually did the work, because you can digitally assess where it came from," he wrote in a June newsletter.

Unsurprisingly, the bosses themselves don't share that perspective.

Those who defend office work, like James Rodgers, recognize that having "more visibility" is a central part of their pro-office mantra.

"It's not so you can micromanage them or 'keep an eye on' them, but so you can understand where they might need more support," he argues.

"It's easier to understand if a team member might be having trouble with a task when they're sitting in front of you. You don't have that visibility when they're sitting 30 to 40 kilometers from you in their own home," he adds.

Aside from visibility, these same bosses also emphasize that the best social and creative possibilities for employees are in the office.

For example, icebreakers in the kitchen, introducing new hires in person, after-work drinks to strengthen teams, and spur-of-the-moment ideas.

"We did our best during quarantines to try to be as creative and (have exchanges) as smooth as possible, but it's quite difficult when you have to schedule a call for everything," warns Daniel Bailey, 34, who is CEO of a London-based footwear research company.

"Working remotely has great benefits, (but) I don't think it's better than being together in one place for the creative process," he says.

 

Kerri Sibson, director of the development company behind London's new Design District (London's new design "mecca"), says some bosses are prioritizing going back to the office so their staff can organize and attend face-to-face events again., or interact with other industry professionals in the same area.

"Startups need to find growth opportunities that often come from these serendipitous encounters," he explains.

Equality?

Bosses who advocate for face-to-face work in the office often insist that companies can and should work to ensure that " there is equal experience and opportunity for the team, whether they are in the office or not."

But a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that about two-thirds of remotely staffed managers believe that such full-time work is detrimental to career goals. of employees.

While a similar number consider remote employees to be easier to replace than workers who come to the workplace.

"The saying 'eyes that do not see, heart that does not feel' perfectly explains why this feeling exists among managers and shows how deeply ingrained the idea of ​​face-to-face work is in our culture," argues Johnny C. Taylor, president and CEO. CEO of the organization.

Other research suggests that some managers find it difficult to trust home-based employees.

The results of a survey of 200 US executives last August showed that they did not have full faith that a third of their staff were using the collaboration technologies necessary for remote work to be successful.

Previously, other Harvard Business Review research on the pandemic revealed that 41% of managers were skeptical that remote workers would remain motivated in the long term.

Middlemiss cautions that there is a "real risk" that these kinds of attitudes towards employees who choose to telecommute amplify pre-existing prejudices, such as those related to race, class, disability and gender.

 

Even before COVID-19, women were more likely to apply for flexible work due to caregiving responsibilities, he notes, and thus are likely to be disproportionately affected if companies prioritize retention and promotion of office staff.

Retain talent

Employment experts predict that despite resistance to remote work, bosses may have to make it a permanent option as companies seek to retain and hire workers.

"The pandemic demonstrated that employees can successfully work from home and want to maintain this flexibility," says Taylor.

"Benefits like telecommuting and flexible hours are critical to attracting and retaining top talent and employers know this," he adds.

"If you can work remotely for someone, you can actually telecommute for anyone else, including potential employers not in your area," Middlemiss adds.

"Therefore, if you know that this is how you want to live and work, it is important that you know that there could be many more opportunities in front of you," he highlights.

There is overwhelming evidence of an increase in job change as workers emerge from the pandemic with a clearer perspective on what they want from their work and home routines in the future.

In the US, a new PwC survey shows that nearly two-thirds of workers are looking for a new position, while figures from the UK's leading job portal Totaljobs suggest that more than three-quarters of those are seeking a new job. British are in active search.

Bosses advocating telecommuting say their approach is having a positive impact on hiring.

"We have had developers who want to work for us from France, UK, Belgium. And that's because we have this flexibility," explains Olga Beck-Friis, co-founder of a Stockholm-based digital legal advice platform.

"We currently have no plans to adopt a full-time back-to-office policy, " he says.

Meanwhile, Winningtemp's Lindmark believes that some managers who choose to return to face-to-face wo