Why your boss might fire people rather than allow remote work

Leaders are weighing the benefits of some forms of remote schedules against company-wide efficiency.

Why your boss might fire people rather than allow remote work
[Photo: jayk7/Getty Images]

There are many people claiming the pandemic will result in “the death of the office.” However, for many jobs, specifically collaborative, high-skill, and high-value roles, working from home doesn’t cut it. Working from home has its benefits—freedom and flexibility being just a couple of them—and so it may not become a thing of the past entirely. One solution for the future is an organized hybrid model that recognizes the benefits of flexibility on the productivity and overall well-being of employees.

With that in mind, executives and employees alike need to prepare to return to offices in the near future. After two years of remote work, many companies are already choosing to return to the office. Companies like Citigroup, BNY Mellon, American Express, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Google, and Twitter are all calling workers back to their offices in a hybrid model that might not be so optional. A recent GoodHire survey found that 77% of managers would take action if workers do not come back to the office.

So what does the future of the workplace look like, and how does the hybrid model fit into that future?

It comes down to a matter of perspective. Who has the power? Businesses weren’t prepared for the pandemic, so they needed people to work from home. The technological infrastructure that made that possible has come leaps and bounds since that time. All of a sudden, work was no longer a destination that required an often lengthy and hectic commute, but rather a trip to the coffee pot and a seat at the kitchen table.

A more competitive job market, on the other hand, allows employees to determine the future of the work environment. Two-thirds of U.S. and U.K. workers who experienced more work flexibility during the pandemic want employers to prioritize work-life balance moving forward. So the question becomes: Do the benefits of working from home—even in a hybrid model—outweigh the consequences?

One case study found that employees who worked from home for a period of nine months were 13.5% more productive than their in-office counterparts. But just because someone claims to be more productive (and genuinely may be), a bigger question is whether it is pushing the business forward? The efficiency of a business ecosystem is larger than one employee, larger even than entire departments.

Collaborative workers, individuals tasked with creative projects in virtual teams, report feeling more like “workers” and less like members of the family. Studies also show that the best creative work takes place when a team is in a state of flow, focusing their collective attention on a single task; but remote work makes it difficult to keep everyone engaged.

This may not affect the productivity of all roles (such as technical jobs that require minimal teamwork), but it certainly affects all employees. Working on-site makes it more likely to have spontaneous communication, increasing workers’ feeling of connection with their teammates by more than 20% compared to at-home workers.

Many people want more than a paycheck when they come to work. Strengthening company culture means creating that sense of unity and camaraderie through high levels of communication among supervisors and staff, opportunity for employees to provide input and feedback, and a feeling of common values and goals.

Peoples’ perceptions of their relationships and sense of belonging in the workplace tie directly to the success of the company. The individual’s positive perception of the “family approach” leads to increased employee retention and recruitment, improved performance, and overall positive feelings associated with the workplace.

It would be challenging to find an employer that says it’s easier to build those kinds of relationships online rather than in person. It’s as simple as comparing it to online dating—you can only get so far trading direct messages and phone calls until you simply must meet in person to come to a decision.

Going forward, organizations will do well to teach people how to create work—to learn how to make the time in the office beneficial for themselves as well. It’s almost an entrepreneurial mindset that needs to come in. If an entrepreneur is forced to spend time in a certain place, they are allocating much of that time to networking, building business, and sharing ideas. Senior people in organizations understand this and are doing it.

The hybrid model may be the future for many organizations, but they will have to work at creating a healthy culture that supports different types of roles and employees. It will be a learning curve to make hybrid work. The question companies need to ask is why are they bringing their employees back? Whatever the answer is, it should drive the way they prepare their people for that return to the office.

Jim Frawley is a coach and consultant, as well as the founder and CEO of Bellwether, a talent coaching firm. He specializes in helping corporations maximize their efficiency and enhance their growth.