Is remote-work…working?

Remote work…is it working or not? Between back-to-office mandates and employee wellbeing statistics, the media is filled with mixed messages on this specific topic. We were curious, so we looked into the most common concerns that executives are voicing against the remote work movement.

Great question, but it’s likely that you’re struggling to figure out the truth or make up your mind on the topic because the media is filled with mixed messages and titles like these:

  • “Paul Graham says remote work ‘does work initially,’ which is why it ‘fooled’ leaders who have since ‘changed their minds” Yahoo
  • “Surprise, surprise: Companies offering remote work are growing faster than those that don’t” Fortune
  • “Eli Lilly’s CEO pinpoints the 3-prong problem big execs face with remote work” Fortune
  • “Remote work forever: Quitting a 6-figure job without another lined up” Business Insider
  • “Tech, an early booster of remote more, wants people back in the office” The Wall Street Journal
  • “Remote work is inevitable. It can be better” Bloomberg

The fight between back-to-office mandates and the remote workforce has excelled since the beginning of this year (2023). When we were thrown into the pandemic remote-work was a practical option for a section of the workforce. If employees were able to continue organizational operations while prioritizing their health and safety, they did, and executives loved it!

 “U.S. companies posted record breaking profits in 2021, even as Americans struggled with rising consumer prices amid the COVID-19 pandemic” Fortune. Corporate profit growth has seemingly only continued to rise hitting another record breaking high in the second quarter of 2022.

So why are executives demanding that employees return to the office? Well, we were curious, so we looked into the most common concerns that executives are voicing against the remote-work movement and it boils down to three general points: Company Culture, Employee Engagement & Team Building.

Company Culture

This is one of those things that can be difficult to express tangibly and yet a hugely impactful aspect that directly affects the growth and success rates of an organization. Company culture is not only important to attracting and retaining top talent, but extends the growth of each team member’s capabilities through programs that encourage whole-person well-being. Essentially company culture and employee engagement work hand-in-hand. 

You have happy, engaged employees invested in company culture = you have hard working employees invested in company growth. But what exactly about working in an office makes employee engagement and company culture so effective? The answer seems unclear.

Remote-work shouldn’t have to dilute your company culture and your company culture should be strong enough to withstand environmental shifts. “A clear majority of 72% want the option of working within a hybrid remote-office model” HBR, so if you’re struggling with the transition it may be a sign that your company culture strategies were struggling prior to the remote-work movement.

Employee Engagement

Research conducted in 2020 showed that 71% of executives believed employee engagement is critical to company success along side 69% of employees stating that they would work harder if they were better appreciated.

A Gallup survey conducted on employee engagement compared pre- and post-COVID statistics. In January 2017 – 33% of employees reported being engaged; in February 2023 – 33% of employees reported being engaged.

So does it really have anything to do with the office?

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Team Building

The last executive concern that has been circling main stream media is team building and productivity levels in remote-work environments. Molding new hires, integrating them into teams, and facilitating relationships, collaboration, and inclusive problem solving are core components for individuals working to achieved a common goal.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal quoted Jenny von Podewils, co-chief executive of Leapsome “Learning doesn’t happen on Zoom calls. It happens during meetings, together, through body language, listening to how people approach certain situations.”

We don’t disagree…but in the same way that company culture and employee engagement mesh together, the efficiency of your team building tactics will be affected by them as well. Depending on “eavesdropping” and “water cooler” moments to train and integrate new employees in to teams seems like a bit of a stretch to be labeled a strategy.

Introducing team building activities that facilitate relationships and collaboration on a regular basis outside of regular work tasks, like Anywhere League, is a proven way to increase team bonding. But where were these strategies prior to the pandemic?

We’re left with more questions… 

The more we weigh statistics and opinions around the remote-work movement – the more questions we’re left with. Why are executives focused on bringing people back to the office instead of optimizing their remote work environment?

A recent survey conducted by Cisco stated that of the 28,000 full-time employees surveyed, 78% of respondents said that remote/hybrid work improved their overall wellbeing. In addition, out of the 1,100 corporate executives surveyed across varies industries around the globe the minority (only 3% of CEO’s from the U.S.) are interested in decreasing the availability of remote work for their employees.

It’s clear that remote/hybrid work is here to stay and needs better strategy building to be more effective and satisfying to executives and employees alike. Additionally, it’s undeniable that old strategies in these three categories are either not transferring properly into the remote-work world or perhaps were lackluster to start with.

The biggest question we’re left with is this: Is the remote-work shift exposing a prior, pre-COVID, demand for better employee engagement initiatives?