by HRHQ Editorial Team
As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, companies have been pushing employees to return to work. Many businesses have expressed a wish for their workers to return to the workplace, citing hopes for a return to routine, enhanced output, and a better workplace culture. The push for returning to work has, however, also generated controversy and debate because some workers have voiced concerns about safety, the possibility of losing the benefits of working from home, and the possibility of discrimination against those who are unable to or choose not to return to the office.
The notion that productivity has been negatively impacted by working from home has been one of the key justifications for the campaign to get people back to the office. Some firms contend that allowing employees to work from home has reduced productivity because it has created distractions and discouraged teamwork. However, studies have shown that remote work can actually increase productivity, as long as employees have the right tools and support*. In fact, a survey by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research found that productivity among remote workers was similar to or even higher than that of in-office workers, depending on the type of job.
Another argument for the return to work push is the belief that working in an office environment is necessary for company culture and building relationships with co-workers. While it is true that in-person interactions can be beneficial for building relationships, the pandemic has demonstrated that remote work can be successful in maintaining company culture and building relationships through virtual means. In fact, many companies have made an effort to maintain company culture through virtual team-building activities, such as virtual happy hours and game nights.
There are also concerns about the potential loss of work-from-home benefits for those who return to the office. Many employees have come to value the flexibility and autonomy that remote work provides, especially if they have childcare or caregiving responsibilities, and may be hesitant to give up those benefits in favour of returning to the office, if they do not have adequate support in place. Employers should consider offering flexible work arrangements, or establishing ways to maintain some level of flexibility and autonomy for their employees, even if they are returning to the office full-time.
Another worry surrounding the return to work push is the potential for discrimination against those who cannot or choose not to return to the office. For example, employees with disabilities or underlying health conditions may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and may not feel comfortable returning to the office. Employers will need to take special safeguards for these workers, such as continuing to enable remote work or adding more security in the workplace.
In 2023, it is likely that the return to work push will continue, but with a greater focus on maintaining a balance between in-office and remote work. Many companies have already announced plans to adopt a hybrid model, allowing employees to work a certain number of days in the office and a certain number of days remotely. This model allows for the benefits of in-person interactions while still maintaining the flexibility and autonomy of remote work.
However, it seems likely that the trend towards remote work will continue to some extent, even after the pandemic has subsided. Many employees have grown accustomed to working from home and may appreciate the flexibility and reduced commute times it offers. Employers may also continue to offer remote work options as a way to attract and retain top talent.
At the same time, it’s important to note that not all jobs can be done remotely, and there will likely always be a need for in-person work in certain industries. It’s likely that the return to work will be a gradual process, with companies adopting a hybrid model that combines remote and in-person work. This may involve rotating schedules or allowing employees to choose their preferred work arrangement.
Ultimately, the return to work is a complex issue with no easy solutions. It will depend on the needs and preferences of both employers and employees. Employers should be mindful of the concerns and challenges their employees may face as they consider a return to the office, and work to create a safe and supportive work environment. Employees should also be honest with their employers about their concerns and needs, and work together to find a solution that works for everyone.
In 2023, it is likely that we will see a greater focus on hybrid work models, flexibility, and the continued evolution of working practices as companies strive to attract the best talent, retain current talent, and improve productivity in the workplace.
*proper working space; effective digital communication tools; and ability to meet colleagues when necessary.