Remote Work: The End or the Beginning

Events outside of the control of employers and employees saw the rise and necessity of remote work. With nearly two years since the widespread adoption of remote work, the workforce is settling into what many assumed to be the new normal. However, many employers do not seem as keen on the permanent adoption of the work-from-home employee.

The Remote Work Debate

Recently, companies like Tesla made headlines insisting on a return to the office. Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, made the policy public by tweeting the directive, explaining that any employee who wishes to work from home must work 40 hours at the office per week.

The debate over the permanence of remote work seems to center on the idea of productivity. Employees believe they are more productive at home, and they speak to a level of work-life balance and mental health they did not experience in an office environment. Employers speculate a remote labor force is prone to miscommunications and potential delays. Essentially, remote work is impractical and potentially less profitable for companies, but it is mentally beneficial for the general workforce.

Remote Work and Productivity

Many company leaders claim an office atmosphere creates a productive environment. Many leaders, like Elon Musk, claim innovation is less likely in remote environments; however, several recent studies conflict with Musk's sentiment.

According to recent polls and research, the remote workforce is more productive from home. Workers spend more time working, often putting in at least one extra day per week. The evidence contrasts CEO assumptions, which begs a simple question: What is the hoopla all about?

Shifting Power Dynamics and the Remote Workforce

Many workers believe the return-to-work demands are about control more than anything else. With worker shortages on the rise and demands for fairer wages becoming more aggressive, employers are witnessing a change in the power dynamic. The current workforce is not as loyal as previous generations. Workers will walk away from companies for others with better offers and better benefits.

Some people believe employers' return-to-work demands are about showing employees they still hold the power. While some companies can make demands and stick to threats because of the quality of positions and overall budgets, few seem willing to take on the negative PR that comes with following through.

Recently, Cognizant, an information technology company and part of the NASDAQ-100, offered a reprieve to their mandatory return-to-office date. Initially, the company established June 6 as a compulsory return, but employees had other ideas. Connecting with the Alphabet Workers Union, Cognizant employees signed a petition stating COVID fears, higher gas prices, productivity, and improved morale as reasons to keep remote policies in place. With many workers vowing not to return to the office on June 6, Cognizant pushed the return-to-office date to September 6.

The End or Beginning of Remote Work

Many economists believe remote work is here to stay, especially in white-collar industries. Employers currently do not have the bargaining power to end the practice, and why should they want to? Employees are happier and more fulfilled when working from home. For decades, the traditional office format has been failing, with employee burnout, depression, anxiety, and several other well-documented problems.

While some corporate leaders may pout and make demands, others listen to their teams and make adjustments. Tech companies like Cisco and Alphabet (Google) are happily adopting remote-first policies and offering employees the option to choose a work-life balance that works for them.

Remote work is here to stay. Leadership needs to accept the new power dynamic or risk future challenges.