4 June 2021
Amaury de Thibault
Two years after the coronavirus pandemic sent the world into lockdown, our lives are slowly returning to “normal”. Travel restrictions are being lifted, mask mandates are being revoked, and all at once, it seems, company executives are ditching their remote working policies and expecting employees to return to the office.
In February this year, David Solomon, Chief Executive at Goldman Sachs, called remote work “an aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible.” And since then, other corporate and political leaders have spoken out about their hopes and plans for the post-pandemic office revival, with rhetoric focused around teamwork and collaboration.
Apple CEO Tim Cook told his employees, “I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to being together again.” Jeff Shell, Chief Exec at Comcast’s NBCUniversal, said in a memo to staff he hoped they were all feeling “energized” and looking forward to rejoining their co-workers in the office very soon. And at the end of April, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Cabinet Office and Government Efficiencies Minister in the UK, told civil servants it was time to return to the office. He’s been widely criticized for leaving “condescending” notes at empty desks that say, “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.”
Even President Biden has chipped in, saying in his State of the Union Address that, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again. People working from home can feel safe to return to the office.”
But what’s driving this change back to traditional office spaces? And are employees really as “energized” by it as their bosses are? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
1. Attitudes towards COVID-19 have changed.
Remote work was not unheard of before COVID-19 hit, but it was much less common. The majority of companies only adopted remote working policies because they were required to do so during the first lockdown. Two years on, 65.8% of the world’s population has had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination, and though the virus remains highly contagious, the new Omicron variant has fewer severe symptoms and is causing less disruptions than the Delta variant that came before it. The prevailing attitude of governments is that we’ve now got to learn to live with Covid instead of isolating.
With live music and sports making a comeback, executives who were never sold on the concept of working from home feel it’s time to start welcoming their employees back to the office.
2. Global organizations have set a precedent.
The CEOs of companies like Goldman Sachs, Apple, and Comcast have very publicly shared their plans for a phased return to the office. And they’re not the only ones. Executives at Amazon, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Netflix, Disney, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Adobe are also talking about going back to in-person work. And with industry giants leading the way, it’s likely companies of all sizes will start to follow suit.
3. Hybrid work model paves the way for phased return.
Many companies have stayed remote longer than they needed to in order to avoid the costs and operational challenges they’ll face when reopening their offices. The post-pandemic future is still not assured, and executives are wary of spending a lot of money on bringing people back into the workplace … only to have to reverse that decision in the winter.
But a hybrid working policy allows business leaders to implement a phased return, minimizing costs and enabling them to measure the success of onsite vs. remote working for their companies before they enforce a full return in the future.
The October 2021 Future Forum Pulse report, a global survey of more than 10,000 knowledge workers, reveals a “great executive-employee disconnect”.
- 76% of employees do not want to return to the office full-time.
- 75% of executives want to work on-site 3-5 days a week vs. only 34% of employees.
- 44% of executives who worked remotely during the pandemic want to go back to the office full-time vs. 17% of non-executive remote workers.
So, what’s driving this disconnect?
1- Difference in work experience. It’s like Brian Elliot, Senior Vice President at Slack and Executive Leader of the Future Forum, says: “The view of the office looks different from the top” (or from the window in a closed door corner office). So, perhaps it’s unsurprising that, as corporate bosses demand a return to the office, overall satisfaction with the working environment rose by 3% for executive employees. For non-executive employees, struggling to balance the pressures of their personal and professional lives, this figure has dropped by 5% since returning to the office.
2- Confirmation bias. Almost 67% of executives say employees have had no say in their companies’ return-to-the-office plans. In the majority of cases, the CEO is the one leading the planning process rather than the head of human resources.
3- Lack of transparency. Two thirds of executives (66%) believe they are being “very transparent” about their post-pandemic policies, but less than half of non-executive employees (42%) agree.
4- Office culture. Old school execs are clinging on to outdated notions of “company culture”. Speaking at a conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Dimon, CEO of financial services giant JPMorgan Chase, stated that he wanted employees back at work because working exclusively from home “doesn’t work for culture”, but he is open to trialing a flexible working policy.
In short, it suits business executives to return to the office. But the majority of non-executive office workers would prefer to work remotely because working from home has given them greater freedom and a better work-life balance. (And to respond to Jamie Dimon’s statement, technology creates a more level playing field for minority workers, which contributes to feelings of a more positive work culture than physically being in the office does, so there’s no excuse!)
Read more about how remote working is more inclusive here.
If you prefer working from home and don’t want to go back to the way things were before the pandemic (think strict 9-5 workday with a lengthy commute, no thanks), we can help!
At Stakha, we fully believe in the benefits of remote work for full-time, permanent employees. It’s the future of work! Sign up today and explore our list of current vacancies, featuring competitive contracts with European tech companies that are 100% remote from beginning to end.