Is “Remote Work” Losing Favor Among Employers?

Female Teacher Working At Home, Online Lesson With Group Of Teen

During the Pandemic,“Remote Work” was necessary and advances in computer hardware and software technology greatly enabled it. It soon became popular with employees looking for greater flexibility in working arrangements. That popularity continued long after the health crisis faded.

Many employers embraced the new working model and reported no loss in productivity. Other employers opted for a “hybrid” remote work model where workweeks were divided between in-office and remote.

Where it was physically and technically feasible, both “hybrid” and “remote” work models seemed headed towards becoming permanent fixtures in the otherwise basically unchanged working world.

Recently however, Yahoo News reported that a few major employers like Amazon, Meta, and Apple, have been calling their remote workers back to the office. The same Yahoo article quotes a prominent venture capitalist, Paul Graham, as saying; “I doubt things will go all the way back to the way they were before Covid, but it looks like they will go most of the way back. “(My emphasis)

If that seems strong, Business Insider quotes the infamous Elon Musk as saying; remote work is “morally wrong” and people need to “get off the god..n moral high horse with the work from home bulls..t”.  Consistent with that absolutist view, last summer (2022), Mr. Musk issued an ultimatum to his workers at Tesla to “return to the office for at least 40 hours per week or quit!”

Yet at the same time, as there seems to be this back paddling on the part of some employers’, others are recruiting remote workers in smaller rural cities in the U.S., the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico.  According to a report this month (June 2023) the number of North American companies with remote workers in these areas has grown 313% between 2020 and 2023.

Part of the motivation here is certainly the substantial savings in labor costs which the same report citesat 40%.

It is interesting to note, on this 40% financial incentive consideration, that we reported on a very interesting Forbes Magazine survey in our Blog article dated June 4, 2022. The Forbes survey question was “Would you give up $30,000 (in annual salary) to work from home?” The question was asked of 3,000 employees from some very well-respected companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Salesforce. The average response was that 64% would give up the $30 thousand to work from home! (Salesforce employees’ response was 76%).

This was quite a surprising result, but it is consistent with other survey results of workers’ most desired benefits. In our June 4, 2022, blog article (cited above) we also reported on a survey by the Harvard Business Review where “working from home” was ranked at number 2 and 4 of 17 of listed benefits, all identified as “most desired” by employees.

So where do we go from here?

If it were just a question of the opinions of venture capitalist Paul Graham and entrepreneur Elon Musk, we might just dismiss their negative viewpoints as being outside the mainstream of American business executives.

But the fact that companies like Google, Amazon, Meta, Apple, Goldman Sachs and others have been calling remote workers back to the office does not look good for the very popular “remote work” option. This may be much less true for the “Hybrid work” option.

But when Zoom, the video meeting company whose product enables both options, lays off 1,300 workers, you know something negative is happening with remote work.

What Happened?

Most of the major players in the severy active layoff companies (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Meta, Apple, etc.) are in the global marketplace, and it is the major uncertainty in that market that is their primary concern. That and the potential impact of the global market on our own is also a concern. So, layoffs may be necessary in anticipation of the world market slowing down in the near future.

So why is “Remote work” impacted so seriously? There is now and has always been a lack of really solid support for remote work, even though there have been many credible studies (Stanford University, SHRM, & others) that remote work actually increases productivity. The studies show many different levels of productivity increases,from 5% to even 35-40%. Some recent studies have found no increase or even a decrease in productivity. Perhaps over time the discipline needed for remote work has declined. Perhaps the solution would be to increase or improve management controls.

Related to this issue studies have also shown that U.S. businesses lose $600 billion a year to workplace distractions. So, even with the distractions that occur in “remote work”, the two venue’s “distraction level” would seem to cancel each other out.

There are, in my opinion, some good arguments against a 100% remote work option. The primary negative most cited is that a company can lose the more personal creative interaction of coworkers that contributes to problem solving, company identity and loyalty, and being physically present can also better facilitate the ongoing discussions of product development and improvement, company policy issues, etc…

These benefits of physical presence and other related ones can also be substantially maintained by using a hybrid work solution which can deliver the best of remote work and in-office advantages. Getting away from the office regularly has creative opportunities that also benefit the company.

I believe there is just too much to be gained by employees and their companies by utilizing the available technologies to deliver creative and more flexible work schedules. Remote work is not for everyone, but for those who desire it and can deliver productivity and quality in that atmosphere, will be a solid resource for any company.

The Hybrid solution seems to have the potential for all sorts of creative and workable scheduling options. That would be my choice.

As always, Stay Safe and keep praying for Ukraine!