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VIEWPOINT: The Work-From-Home Vs. Return-To-Office Debate

By Cynthia Watson

Date:

What employees, bosses should consider

Many Americans have been working from home full time for a year now since COVID-19 hit the U.S. And many prefer that arrangement to a traditional office. In a survey, 65 percent said they want to work remotely full time after the pandemic.

 That could pose a problem for them and their employers. 

Given the availability of vaccines, many companies are planning to ask their employees to return to the office. But a sizable number of workers might balk — or even walk. In a survey by LiveCareer, 29 percent of working professionals said they would quit if they couldn’t continue working remotely. 

The reality is that some jobs just don’t work remotely and some people don’t work well remotely. Companies have time to plan for both — and so do employees. 

Many employees now expect to be able to work flexibly. Some companies will use a hybrid approach, and others will go back to full time in the office. But if employees are not given the choice to work from home, some will look for other employers that do offer that. Businesses need to assess which jobs are best done remotely and evaluate their employees to understand which ones benefit the company most by either working from home or returning to the office.

Here are some thoughts for workers, business owners, and managers to consider in the work-from-home (WFH) vs. return-to-office debate:

• The WFH type. At this point, it should be relatively easy to assess who is thriving and who is miserable in a WFH setting. What we have found is, regardless if you’re an introvert or an extrovert, the perfect WFH employees are people who embrace life and who have passions and interests outside of work. They work efficiently and are strong performers because they see work as a means to fund their life.

• The traditional office type. I draw a stark contrast between people who thrive working from home and those who are much happier commuting to a traditional brick-and-mortar office environment. These individuals have strong social relationships through work and require the camaraderie that an in-office environment provides. For many, especially those focused on the corner office, work is their life. These are the ones who pull down 80-hour weeks to move up the ladder. They stay glued to their boss, and likely are the ones who just won’t function well at home. Sadly, they are also likely your VP.

• Weigh how your company thinks of you. Although we all like to think that companies care about employees, the harsh reality is that workers are a unit of production and companies will migrate to the setup that senior executives mandate. Do you really want to work for a company that isn’t prepared to accommodate what makes you most productive and happy? Better sharpen that résumé and get ready. Plan now and work your networks. 

• Management realities. For many companies, even with the environmental, health and productivity advantages that remote work brings, some simply aren’t going to embrace WFH as an opportunity to streamline operations. They are going to want to return to the “old normal.” A good number of senior management people didn’t do well with the WFH environment because they view WFH through a lens of slacking-off employees, lower productivity, and lower ROI. So it’s likely these companies are not going to make the investments in training, home-based bandwidth, VPNs, and tools to make it work. 

There’s coming tension in many companies between what will work best for management and what will work best for the employees. We may see a big migration in workers going to fully virtual companies.

Cynthia Watson (formerly Cynthia Spraggs) is author of “How To Work From Home And Actually Get SH*T Done: 50 Tips for Leaders and Professionals to Work Remotely and Outperform the Office.” She is CEO of Virtira (www.virtira.com), a completely virtual company that focuses on remote team performance. 

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