During the pandemic, employers let slip something they can’t take back — thousands of jobs can be done from home. Now, they’re desperately trying to convince everyone that isn’t the case.
Huge companies such as Disney and Amazon have implemented return-to-office policies. This requires workers to return to mostly in-person work after months or even years of hybrid or home working. After the status quo mixup that was the pandemic, it’s clear that returning to the office isn’t the fix-all solution that many companies think it will be.
Before I get too far into this, I want to say that I enjoy working in person. In my experience, it’s easier to collaborate and get to know your team members when you can meet them face-to-face. You can’t capture that same energy over a Zoom call. Getting out of the house can create a separation in your brain between “work time” and “home time” — at least it does for me.
But the problem isn’t that employers want a return to the office — there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s how they’re going about it. The pandemic showed that so many people can work from home and want to do so, but companies are too stuck in the past to look to the future of work.
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Working from home reduces overall costs for many workers. Childcare and commuting are time-consuming and expensive. With the average inflation last year at 8%, these costs can add up. Both of these can be eliminated or reduced by working from home or in a hybrid environment.
Commuting is famously one of the biggest gripes of office life. In 2019, the average one-way commute was 27.6 minutes. This was up from 25 minutes in 2006. Why should you spend nearly an hour each day driving to the same job you could do at home?
Working from home can also do the thing it was intended to do in the first place — reduce the spread of disease. In 2019, 33% of surveyed professionals reported always going to work while sick. There shouldn’t be an expectation to physically attend work no matter what.
After the pandemic, all of us should reevaluate how we see work. Your job shouldn’t be your life. You should be allowed to spend time on hobbies or with the people you love. Working from home allows more free time to do that, rather than spending hours in an office or on a commute.
Many employers are stuck in the past. They want to reduce that coveted work-life balance to favor work, as it was before the pandemic. Having people physically in the office allows bosses to look over their employees’ shoulders and feel a sense of control.
If companies want people back in their offices, they need to find ways to actually entice people into coming back. Offering free coffee isn’t usually enough. Rethinking the traditional workflow of the office is a good place to start.
In that restructuring, workers should be allowed a choice. There are plenty of people who enjoy working in person, but also plenty who find the most productivity at home. Employers should support their employees on both sides of the aisle to find that happy medium. It’s been proven from the last few years that plenty of good work can be done from home.
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The recent push back to the office has shown just how much power workers do have. In February, a team of contractors at YouTube Music unionized and went on strike after being notified of a return to the office, when most of them were hired remotely in the first place. Employers need to realize that the ball is no longer in their court — people will work the way they want to, with or without them.
Danny William (they/them) is a sophomore studying media.