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The Great Resistance: Rethinking return to office perspectives
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The Great Resistance: Rethinking return to office perspectives

Sharon Monteiro
June 14, 2023

In an internal memo in late May 2022, Tesla chief Elon Musk said that remote work at the company was no longer acceptable, and later tweeted that remote workers were just pretending to work. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon called remote work “an aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, only half of Goldman Sachs employees showed up to work at the company’s headquarters in Manhattan when the office reopened in March 2022. Despite a number of firms wanting their employees back in the office, many big companies are still struggling to encourage, or even mandate, employees to return to the office more regularly.

Knowledge workers who have gotten used to the flexibility and freedom of working from home don’t want to return to the cubicle. And with the competition of talent, employers can’t really put up a fight. It’s being dubbed “The Great Resistance,” and ever since remote work became mainstream, people have had a thing or two to say about it.

Here are some notable and diverse opinions & perspectives about the Great Resistance.

The Great Resistance: Rethinking return to office perspectives

1. For Alexia Cambon, employees’ return to office resistance is deeply personal

The Great Resistance

In her article for HR Dive, Alexia Cambon gave an impassioned opinion on how the Great Resistance on returning to the workplace was like asking employees to make a deeply personal decision on how, when and where they choose to work.

After spending more than 70 hours talking with C-suite executives about the future of work and a Gartner survey of 500 global employees about their work preferences, the clearest conclusion she came to was this: Decisions about how employees work are deeply personal

“If my employer asked me to sacrifice this personal passion to come into the office — after a year of delivering quality work and demonstrating high productivity from home — it would feel random, and a little hurtful.”

When organizations expect workers to make these personal sacrifices and revert back to the older way of doing things in total disregard for advancements that have been made, Alexia believes that it is little wonder why these organizations are seeing tidal waves of resignations.

“Any organization that treats its future of work strategy as primarily a business decision to be made by the CEO is treading dangerous waters. Employees, more than ever, feel they have a basic right to decide how work fits into their life.”

In conclusion, she says,

“The future of work is deeply personal. The starting point for these decisions cannot be a place of productivity, cost and efficiency. The starting point must be acknowledging that our resistance to, or our desire for, evolution comes from a deeply personal place. From there, we can start to reinvent work in a way that does not compromise the relationship between employee and employer, but closes the widening gap between them.”

2. Chris Dyer says remote work can work – but it takes effort from company leaders

The Great Resistance

When Chris Dyers’ company – PeopleG2 – went remote in 2009, they almost had to keep it a secret. The perception was that it wasn’t something a traditional business should be doing. In the Covid-19 era, Dyers believe that remote work is not just acceptable, it was thought to be a preferred model for many employees and employers.

However, he adds, “Although remote work is popular, it can’t be a set-it-and-forget-it model of work. It requires new ways of management, trust and commitment from employers and HR and benefit leaders. If companies don’t do it well, employees will burn out quicker and be more likely to leave their organizations.”

In his opinion, when it comes to managing people in a remote or hybrid setting, learning the required skills is better and actually easier. But if leaders try to do the same thing they were doing before, it creates a difficult environment to manage and sets employees up to fail.

“I guess the closest example I can give you is, if you’ve been riding horses your whole life and I showed up with a car, and you took the saddle off of the horse and tried to put it in the car and said, “This is how I ride; I ride on the saddle.” And instead of using a steering wheel, you’re trying to use the reins, of course, it’s not going to work. You have to learn how to drive the car. And it’s not going to be easy.”

Trust is key, says Dyers. But instead of constantly questioning whether employees are working or skimping on work and not completing their eight hours, Dyers insists that managers focus on who did a great job, who exceeded expectations, what team got a project done under budget or on time.

“People want to do more of the good stuff.”

3. Victoria McLean says that businesses are navigating tricky circumstances

The Great Resistance

UK-based founder & CEO of career consultancy City CV, Victoria McLean says that the tricky circumstances of remote work make it almost impossible for management to keep everyone happy. But a lot of businesses she has spoken to are now offering hybrid working and having one day in the week when everyone has to be in the office, which seems to be a good balance of flexible working.

For those stuck at home and loathing it, McLean recommends, “…Taking regular breaks from the computer, telling line managers when you’re struggling and filling the day with lots of personal connection, be it chat rooms or video calls with colleagues. Plus, set a boundary between your work and personal life so you're not 'always on’.”

4. Paula Allen finds that those people who prefer working in the office are being marginalised

The Great Resistance

There's no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated a shift to remote work in some industries, but there's a risk that those who prefer to work in an office will have their voices drowned out in public debate, according to Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and wellbeing at LifeWorks.

“As many employers focus on more remote working and adapting to long-term changes such as virtual meetings, it can feel that those who prefer working in the office are being marginalised.”

To accommodate employees' needs, according to Allen, businesses must cultivate a culture of openness and adaptability. Businesses that mandate remote work must provide more opportunities for staff to interact, such as through company-wide social media platforms, regular check-ins from line managers, and making video calling the standard method of catching up rather than email.

“It encourages employees to stay connected and helps reduce loneliness and fatigue.”

5. In Tracy Bower’s opinion, the real reason to go back to the office has nothing to do with the employer

The Great Resistance

We’ve heard a fair share about the benefits of coming back to the office for employers. Tracy Bower shines a light on the significant benefits it has for employees, as well. She states the chief among these is “community and getting back to your people.” It may be difficult to quantify than productivity or attendance but is important nevertheless.

“It has to do with connections, engagement and being with our colleagues. It is the need we have for each other and to be united around something that matters. It is also the positive obligation to contribute to the group and the culture, and to share our talents and build relationships.”

According to Tracy, the following are the things that employees can receive – and more importantly – give back when working with others:

  • Belonging and social identity
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Smarts and performance
  • Career development
  • Relationships; and
  • Learning

“Reciprocity is part of the human condition. When we receive something, it is our instinct to give back. We gain from our work experience and we owe something in return— in a good way — because we have an obligation to our community and to something beyond ourselves. Our community needs us.”

Tracy concludes her argument by stating that the return to office doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing prospect. And although work from home will be a positive remnant of what we have learned from the past year, it would be wiser to not underestimate what employees will gain from coming back and giving back to the community.

6. Adrian Wooldridge is happy to report that workers are winning the Great Resistance

The Great Resistance

In Adrian Wooldridge’s opinion, the deepening clash between knowledge workers and companies is more than just a struggle over commuting and convenience, although it certainly is that. It is a clash over the meaning of work.

The big lesson that knowledge workers learned from Covid-19 is that work is no longer dependent on place. Thanks to the possibilities presented by a widely dispersed computing power, employees can work from anywhere.

In addition, “The big lesson that employers learned from Covid is that companies are more than just “nexuses of contracts”… They are social organizations that are in the business of transmitting unique cultures.”

As long as employers hanker for a return to the world that existed pre-Covid, they are bound to remain frustrated. So, rather than pushing people into the office, Wooldridge insists that employers need to rethink what work means in an age of distributed computer power.

“They need to recognize that people will no longer go to the office to do things that they can do just as easily at home. So the happy-go-lucky idea that corporate culture will form as a byproduct of people simply turning up is for the birds.”

7. Sarah Green Carmichael attests that four-day workweeks can burn you out

The Great Resistance

Companies with a four-day wee option often blow their own trumpets for their worker-friendly policies. But, when you dig into the details, a four-day work week means different things in different places. In some businesses, employees may put in four 10-hour days. In some places, staff members can take Fridays off without putting in more time the previous four days. However the days are scheduled, one finding stands out: working for fewer hours is better for workers and their employers.

Sarah Green Carmichael
cited the following study in her article on Bloomberg:

“The most recent significant study of four-day weeks was conducted in Iceland from 2015 to 2019 and involved more than 1% of the population. Organizations enrolled in the study didn’t squeeze 40 hours into four days; they shortened the workweek to 35 or 36 hours. And different workplaces chose different approaches — some took every other Friday off, while others shortened the workday by an hour.

Regardless of how the hours were distributed, changing the schedule forced the organizations to rethink how work got done. They discovered ways to spend less time working while maintaining (or even increasing) output, such as holding shorter meetings or setting clearer priorities. Workers said the experiment left them with less confusion about their roles, more autonomy and more support from colleagues and bosses. Managers noticed their employees showing more discipline and focus.

The experiment was hugely popular. Employee well-being rose, and workers reported having more time for hobbies, friends and exercise. Another key benefit was improved weekends.”

It shouldn't come as a surprise that shortening the workday enhanced output quality in addition to enhancing worker wellbeing. As the day goes on, we become less effective and energetic. Studies dating back more than a century support this. And businesses should bear that in mind before trying to fit a 40-hour schedule into a four-day workweek. Four-day workweeks are a worthwhile management experiment. However, businesses need to shorten the workweek rather than just shift it if they want to succeed.

Additional Reading: The Cons of a 4-Day Workweek

8. Nicholas Bloom discovers that employers are finding it hard to deal with employees not showing up

The Great Resistance

A research paper from Harvard Business School, co-led by Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University found that while many companies settled on three or four days in the office when initially establishing hybrid-work arrangements, the ideal setup is actually just one or two days in the office. The study further found that hybrid work schedules can reduce employee quit rates by 35 per cent. With employees quitting the workforce in record numbers, that flexibility matters.

“Employees are not showing up, and it’s hard for employees to deal with this.”

When it comes to returning to office policies, Bloom's ongoing analysis of pandemic-era workplaces has discovered chasms between what managers and workers want. For every boss who claims that when offices are sparsely populated, corporate culture and innovation suffer, there are plenty of workers, particularly women and under-represented racial groups, who have no desire to return to the inequities, double standards, and microaggressions of daily cubicle life.

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