The Battle Over Remote Work: 5 Ways Corporations Have It Wrong

Maybe not the best work environment, but perhaps better than a cubicle.
Maybe not the best work environment, but perhaps better than a cubicle. Photo by Wolfgan Lonien
Story after story on work over the past few months has focused on corporations trying to move back to "normal" as society moves on from the pandemic. Chief among them is remote work for white collar employees who have done nearly all or much of their work over the last two years from home, at first thanks to COVID restrictions and later simply because they were used to it and liked it.

Numerous companies including Apple and Tesla have begun back-to-work requirements and others have begun to do the same, tying them to the Labor Day holiday. Others have gone fully remote, opting to ditch offices entirely. Still more employers are trying to bridge the gap with flexible or partial office schedules.

As many job search companies have noted, the number one question for most white collar hires is related to office work. Roughly 30 percent of those workers remain in flexible or fully remote jobs and many want to keep those options available citing easier child/elder care and replacing commutes with family time. The pandemic certainly caused plenty of Americans to reassess their life-work balance in a way that made them view work differently, and employers are concerned about losing their grip on a changing workforce.

There are good reasons for office work, but, unfortunately, many corporate entities are going about it in the wrong way, offering enticements that miss the big picture. Here are five ways they get it wrong.

Employees are more productive.

The number one argument from employers is that people are simply more productive and efficient in an office environment. However, during the pandemic, the majority of companies reported an increase in production by workers. The antiquated idea that locking people into an office for eight hours a day makes for better work has been disproven repeatedly by many of the same companies who believe it is true. No doubt some of this is to justify the expensive, long-term office leases they have to sign, but some of it is likely adherence to old school ideologies that are incompatible with the modern tech workforce.

Check out our amenities!

One way companies are trying to get people back is through work amenities including more flexible office space (hey, work from a sofa!) and things in the building like food and, in some cases, workout facilities and games like ping pong. Maybe it's just us, but the idea of going into the office to play ping pong seems rather counterproductive. Obviously, managers are hoping employees will simply want to BE in the office, leading them to more time at work in general. That might work on fresh-out-of-college recruits with loads of free time, but veterans would likely opt to do something else away from the office instead.

Get social!

Speaking of appealing to younger workers, the idea of social happy hours, group events and retreats is another carrot being offered to get people back in the office. This is, again, something that MAY appeal to fresh-faced twenty somethings who can build their social lives around office colleagues, but we fail to see how this will lead to more productivity at work. Sure, liking your coworkers is a great way to build team morale, but so is good pay, flexible work hours and proper benefits.

Collaboration produces million dollar ideas.

Perhaps the most bizarre idea floating around corporate America is that being around one another in the elevator or around the water cooler (is that still a thing?) produces the kind of serendipity that leads to million dollar ideas. Without this near constant discussion and collaboration, how are employees are supposed to come up with amazing ideas? First, these ideas aren't great for employees. Most do not benefit from them directly, so who cares? Second, for decades, software developers have created many of the technologies we use every day through online collaboration with little or face to face contact.

It's easier to keep an eye on employees.

This really gets to the heart of the matter for most employers: control. This worry that employees, when left to their own devices, won't do their jobs is part of adversarial relationship that has been around for decades. But there is really nothing to indicate that bad workers won't do a poor job regardless of where they are doing it. Ultimately, it's about good hiring and providing a great environment for employees to thrive, financially and otherwise.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke