The Wall Street Journal recently published an article that may have sent chills down the spines of many corporate leaders. The headline? “Remote Work May Now Last For Two Years, Worrying Some Bosses.” Such a headline would have been unimaginable before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we knew it back in March of 2020.
Back then, office lockdowns were seen as our best defense against the spread of a deadly virus. Overnight, millions of workers pivoted to “the new normal,” turning dining room tables, guest rooms, even spare closets, into Zoom-ready home offices. We adapted because we had to, not because we chose to. For some, the adjustment was bumpy. For others, liberating. But as the WSJ article reports, “Surveys have shown that enthusiasm for remote work has only increased as the pandemic has stretched on.”
Obviously, the rise of variants like Delta and Mu have added a “Whack-a-Mole” element to any discussions of workers returning to corporate headquarters. After all, how can you reopen your office when vaccination rates vary and outbreaks remain frustrating disruptions? How do you set a firm date for resuming normal operations when COVID keeps crashing the planning party?
What’s more, even when companies get a lasting grip on the pandemic, workers may be reluctant or even refuse to resume their pre-COVID lives. Having adjusted to new routines and greater flexibility, employees may bristle at giving up the option of remote work. In fact, some may do more than reject the idea. They may resign to find a more remote-friendly employer.
Of course, offices offer some benefits that off-site work cannot. For new employees, it’s tough to develop strong work relationships or mentors via Zoom. For seasoned employees, the lack of a thriving work culture or connection to their company makes it, as one executive explains in the WSJ piece, hard to retain top talent: “As individuals disassociate themselves with their organizations from a cultural standpoint, it becomes increasingly easy for them to make decisions to leave and go elsewhere.”
A recent New York Times article covered that trend and its consequences. Short version: If you feel no loyalty to your team, you’ll feel no remorse at leaving it.
Many bosses also argue that working from home hobbles the exchange of ideas: They contend that face-to-face interactions are crucial to productivity. Is that true? Another Times article challenges that belief.
Employees report that they’re as productive, if not more, when they don’t have to waste time and energy commuting to an office. Company surveys indicate that many professionals are unwilling to “go back” to the rigid schedules they were beholden to in the “before times.” Being able to toss a load of laundry into the washer on your lunch break, attend a child’s school events, or saving money on dry cleaning, commuting costs, or parking, are just some of the perks workers don’t want to lose.
“THERE’S NO GOING BACK”
In June, I appeared at EWAS, the Elite Wealth Advisor Symposium, and got real with advisors: “People don’t leave jobs. They leave you – leaders, bosses, managers.” I also cited a Gallup study that reveals this sobering fact: “More than 50% of employees say they are actively looking for a new job.” So, if you’re not responsive to what your workers want, they will go elsewhere.
In the WSJ article, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger affirms that – like it or not – COVID has changed workplaces forever: “If you have a little blip, people go back to the old way. Well, this ain’t a blip…There’s no going back.” Just ask the leaders at Apple, Amazon and Facebook, who have repeatedly had to scrub office-return dates and address their workers’ demands.
Or as I put it in my EWAS presentation: “If you are not considering creating a hybrid of work-from-home and in the office, you will no longer be an employer of choice, I can guarantee that. This is a requirement. The world has changed and if you are not willing to do that, you will not attract top candidates. WFH (Work From Home). That’s what’s important.”
Ignore that reality at your peril.