The tug-of-war between remote work and office-based work is truly on. Both sides have compelling reasons for their points of view and are prepared to argue strongly that theirs is the better option. Many employers demand that workers return to the office, but workers are adamant that they would prefer to work remotely, and some are still taking pay cuts to retain the flexibility they crave. So who is likely to win the battle?
Arguments for remote working:
Remote work leads to increased productivity and job satisfaction, particularly for those working in technical jobs requiring minimal teamwork.
Having employees working at remote locations reduces costs, as seen in the reduction of office space and the concomitant decrease in rentals and associated costs.
Remote work decreases the overall salary bill as many workers are prepared to take salary cuts due to reduced commutation and allied expenses.
Around 30% of all jobs advertised are for remote positions. This number has sustained itself over the last three years. Many remote workers have discovered they are no longer regionally bound to find more lucrative opportunities - they can now find work anywhere in the world.
The skills shortage means employers must be more expansive than their domiciles to access the needed talent. They have no choice but to keep the doors open to remote work to win the talent war.
Arguments for office working:
The primary reason cited by many employers is the loss of social interaction and innovation by not being in the office.
Others say that losing control and the ability to assess performance is detrimental to both employers and employees.
Concerns about effectively onboarding new employees and training young employees virtually. Both,m it is claimed, harm the culture of the company.
There is a strong lobby of people who believe that remote work stifles employees' careers and ability to grow professionally.
Not all jobs lend themselves to remote work, especially those requiring direct physical customer contact or access to sophisticated machinery to ply their trade. Examples are manufacturing jobs and those in healthcare.
Many believe that just as the COVID pandemic provided the necessary impetus to remote work, the current economic crises will swing the momentum back to the pro-office protagonists. As jobs become scarcer, employers will have the power to enforce a return to the office. Time will tell whether this will be the catalyst for getting people back at the office.
To venture a prediction on who will win this battle, one needs to look at some of the fundamentals that were driving remote work, even before the advent of COVOD, namely:
Disconcertedness about the state of work: even before the pandemic, people were already disparaged about the status of work-life. It is well documented that the number of people suffering mental and emotional burnout and complaining about work-life balance was rising.
Changing attitudes about work: today's young people are increasingly pursuing location-independent freelance careers and digital nomad lifestyles. Recent changes in the world of work, such as the explosion of the gig economy, are changing our society's attitudes toward work.
Globalisation: as more companies move into global markets, they must be more open to hiring foreign talent and embrace distributed teams, especially where 24/7 services and support are required, and local nuances demand local representation.
Technological advances: the advancements that have made remote work possible will almost certainly be harnessed to reduce the limitations in communication and collaboration. Furthermore, there is no reason technology cannot be used to ease the burden of onboarding and training new employees.
The hard-core imperatives: research conducted by Grant Thorton identifies hard-core imperatives for both business and employees:- Two-thirds of employees working remotely would like to remain that way or at least have the option. At the same time, three-quarters of executives view talent shortages as significantly hampering their bottom lines in 2022. Employers looking to hire the best talent must recognize workers' preference for remote work.
The early results from failed attempts by some of the world's most recognised leaders to bring workers back to the office may be the most compelling evidence of where this battle will end: Elon Musk backed down on his demand that his Tesla employees return to the office by allowing it up to the individual's manager to decide which of their subordinates could work from home, provided that authoring manager accepted responsibility for any drop-off in performance. Apple CEO Tim Cook's efforts to get the tech giant's employees back into the office have been challenging. In August, Cook sent a memo to employees touting the benefits of "in-person collaboration" but backed away from earlier more rigid proposals to bring employees together on the same fixed day each week. David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, repeated insistence that employees return to the office full-time did not resonate with employees when the investment banking giant reopened its US offices in February, showing only half its staff were happy to return to the office.
In the meanwhile, the tug-of-war continues. Our view: remote work is here to stay and will continue to grow in years to come, albeit in a hybrid format.