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  • Writer's pictureBryan Jun

should we go back into the office?

This is probably at top of mind for many company leaders as we transition from pretending that the pandemic is over to the pandemic being actually over. It's quite strange how "Delta variant" news keeps getting ignored and not much attention is given by our great leaders like Mr. Newsom and Mr. Cuomo (looks like calls for their resignation have mysteriously quieted down too) - regardless, "normalcy" is within grasp and professionals are trying to figure out how to define it in H2 2021.

Unsurprisingly (at least to me), some of the big names that are typically known for allowing their employees to have their freedom, are asking employees to come back. Google, known for their cereal bars and amazing employee perks, have put the foot down and are calling for their people to come into work (obviously met with some retaliation, especially given the flexibility their employees have to begin with). Call me conservative, but I don't understand how this isn't the norm. We've been under strange circumstances in the past year and a half, operating under a reputational damage system, where enforcing in-person work would've been deemed life threatening and tone deaf. Whether you believe in the severity of COVID or not, I do think it was right for most companies to encourage and enforce work from home. There's no doubt that many companies, and specifically roles like sales and software engineering, have realized that all work could be done remotely while saving on lease, commuting time and the shear stress associated with being stared down by the colleague you don't like.

However, if we're all being real with ourselves, productivity has gone down. As much as we say we focus better in our work from home setups and the "30 minute walk breaks" allow us to recharge, the reality is those walks sometimes turn into an hour and at other times they mark the end of the day. There's a sharp rise of independence and self-motivation that is required by work from home, and unless you're an inherently love-working person (which I actually believe don't exist), remote working has encouraged irresponsible behavior. Don't get me wrong - work still gets done, our world is still going around and I'm happy to admit that I love all the perks of working from home. If I were to take a selfish and "immature" stance, I'd want this forever. As much as I'm an extrovert and I miss the watercooler chats with colleagues, I'd much prefer saving the commute time and enjoy 15 minute reading breaks without caring about judging "why aren't you working eyes." But my ideological perspective here is that you're an employee, your employer hired you and paid you to do what they want you to do, and that's all there is to it. If they want you to come back, you come back.

There is the question of competitive hiring - if the work from home option is something that one company offers and the other does not and you have the ability to choose between the two (with a preference towards the flexibility), the answer is obvious. We see an amplitude of LinkedIn job postings with "remote-first" or "work anywhere" options - again, I don't think flexibility is bad. If you're a competitive candidate and your priority is working from home, then having options is a positive and a core principle of capitalism - it should continue. However, if you're not someone with a choice of jumping ship and the company you're with requires you to come back, I don't think blatant retaliation is the correct way to go about things. I doubt that the managers and leaders want to go back in either - rather, they concluded that the synergies that come from their employees being in person outweigh the immediate negative feedback they'll receive.

I'm sure a multitude of research will come out post this pandemic era (for all sorts of things) on work productivity and whether or not work from home is truly a model to stay. My assumption based on anecdotes, buzzword headlines and personal experience is that productivity has gone down and so has effective innovation. Human beings are by nature communal people and the ceiling we know as "can I share my screen" is a lot lower than we want it to be. I love working from home but am constantly surprised that not every company is requiring their people to come back. Short Zoom.

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