Being able to ask a quick question to a colleague at the next table, call spontaneous meetings to discuss issues, and make sure everyone has a stable Wi-Fi connection.
These are just a few of the reasons why 26-year-old James Rogers prefers to manage his team at the office, rather than from the 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,” says Rogers, who leads the public relations team for the London branch of an Anglo-American content agency global.
As of April, the company began to give employees the option of partially returning to the office.
“Our goal is for as many team members as possible to return to the office as often as possible in the coming months,” he explains.
Human resources experts say Rogers’ stance reveals a trend.
While numerous global surveys indicate that working remotely was a positive experience for a significant number of employees and that many (but not all) want to keep things as they are, many bosses disagree.
In the US, 72 percent of bosses who oversee employees remotely prefer all employees to be in the office, according to a recent Society for Human Resource Management study, which the BBC had access to.
A survey conducted in June by the British Chartered Management Institute (CMI) showed that about half of bosses expected staff to be in the office at least two to three days a week.
In Sweden, data company Winningtemp, which has customers in 25 countries, says it is seeing signs of pressure to return to the office, particularly in markets where there are high levels of vaccination.
“I see that many companies are pushing (a comeback),” said founder and CEO Pierre Lindmark. “They start saying, ‘OK, you got the second dose, you have to be in the office’.”
All of this is sparking debate over why bosses are rejecting teleworking faster than many experts predicted, what it means for the future of teleworking, and how it will affect who wants to maintain their current work routines after the pandemic.
need for control
While working from home during the pandemic demonstrated that employees are capable of being productive, human resources experts note that many bosses experienced a loss of control compared to pre-pandemic times. And now they want to regain that control.
“If you’re with people, you feel like you can be in control,” says Lindmark. “You’re not judging people just by looking at them on camera, you’re judging them by looking at productivity, what’s going on (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 in the office.
But he warns that this is happening without bosses looking closely at individual or company-wide performance over time, and without having a strategy for how it will affect employees.
“Managing a remote team is more difficult. It requires new skills. A lot of people have entered this area unprepared,” says Maya Middlemiss, an author and specialist in teleworking, based in Valencia, Spain.
“Therefore, it is not surprising that we are having a negative reaction, and that people who have not adapted well to this form of group management prefer to have everyone back (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 as when they went “from one meeting to another” and monitored what their teams were doing.
“While this can also happen in Zoom and Slack, it’s much clearer who really did the work, because you can digitally assess where it came from,” he wrote in a June newsletter.
Bosses, of course, don’t think so.
Advocates of 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 he’s sitting in front of you. You don’t have that visibility when he’s sitting 30 to 40 kilometers away from you in his own home.” it adds.
In addition to greater visibility, these same bosses also emphasize that the best social and creative possibilities for employees are in the office.
For example, conversations in the hallway to break the ice between people, introducing new employees in person, or having drinks after work to strengthen team spirit and for spontaneous ideas to arise.
“We did our best during the quarantines to try to be as creative and (transition) as smooth as possible, but it’s very difficult when you have to schedule a call for everything,” says 34-year-old Daniel Bailey, who is CEO of a shoe research company based in London.
“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, head 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 team can organize and attend face-to-face events again or interact with other industry professionals in the same field.
“Startups need to find growth opportunities that often come from these chance encounters,” he explains.
Bosses who advocate face-to-face office work 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) found that about two-thirds of bosses with remote teams believe that full-time work is detrimental to employees’ career goals.
And a similar number of bosses find it easier to replace remote workers compared to workers who go to the workplace.
“The saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ perfectly explains why this feeling exists among bosses and shows how the idea of face-to-face work is deeply ingrained in our culture,” argues Johnny C. Taylor, president and CEO of organization.
Other research suggests that some managers have difficulty trusting employees who work from home.
The results of a survey of 200 US executives last August showed that they did not fully believe that one-third of their staff was using the collaboration technologies necessary for telecommuting success.
Previously, another Harvard Business Review survey of the pandemic had revealed that 41 percent of managers doubted that remote workers would remain motivated in the long run.
Middlemiss warns that there is a “real risk” that attitudes of this kind towards employees who choose to work at a distance 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 working due to caring responsibilities, he notes, and therefore would likely be disproportionately affected if companies prioritized retention and promotion of clerical employees.
Employment experts predict that despite resistance to telecommuting, employers may have to make it a permanent option as companies look to retain and hire workers.
“The pandemic has demonstrated that employees can successfully work from home and want to maintain that flexibility,” said Taylor.
“Benefits like telecommuting and flexible hours are essential to attracting and retaining the best talent, and employers know it,” he adds.
“If you can work remotely for someone, you can actually work remotely for anyone else, including potential employers who aren’t in your field,” adds Middlemiss.
“That’s why, if you know that’s how you want to live and work, it’s important that you know that there may be many more opportunities ahead,” he says.
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 job. In the UK, figures from the leading job portal, Totaljobs, suggest that more than three quarters of Britons are looking for a new job.
Bosses who advocate teleworking say this approach is having a positive impact on hiring.
“We had developers who want to work for us in France, the UK, Belgium. And that’s because we have this flexibility,” explains Olga Beck-Friis, co-founder of a Stockholm-based digital legal consultancy platform.
“Currently, we have no plans to adopt a full-time back-to-office policy,” he says.
Meanwhile, Lindmark of Winningtem,p believes that some managers who choose to return to full face-to-face work may end up re-evaluating their decisions.
According to him, the shift from teleworking can impact productivity and profitability levels.
“If people have been working at home for a long time and enjoy it a lot, when they return to the office they feel that they are in control… they are losing autonomy,” he says.
Instead, it suggests that bosses take a closer look at individual and team production and how they feel about helping create hybrid models.
“Flexible working hours … have to work together for employees, employers and organizations,” agrees Taylor of the Society for Human Resource Management. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution. And that’s the key,” he analyses.
From London, the manager in favor of returning people to the office, Rogers, remains confident that other companies will adopt his way of thinking.
“I think a lot of companies underestimate the power of having employees together in one space and will change their starting position on teleworking in the future,” he says.
“We found that most of our team was excited to be all together in the office,” he concludes.
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