Two weeks ago, President Joe Biden addressed the nation, encouraging workers to come back to offices and “safely fill our great downtown cities again”.
The White House and Joe Biden remote work stand has a solid rationale – the downtowns of New York have progressively emptied since the start of the pandemic, and the District of Columbia became a shadow of its former self.
The pandemic has affected the economy of these buzzing districts, and the government is doing its best to get it back on its feet.
What about the companies who are supposed to “fill our great downtown cities”? Are they looking forward to coming back to the offices?
It depends on who you stand with since employees and executives have drastically different views.
Employees are saying “no” to commutes and cubicles, “yes” to remote work and freedom
In summer 2021, Slack set out to determine whether employees are stoked about coming back to offices. Most were not – 75% of a 10,000-participant survey wanted to keep working remotely from home.
Other studies fall in line – Stanford researchers found out that 21.4% of remote workers rate doing their jobs from home “hugely better” compared to going to offices. For 22%, remote work was “substantially better”, for 16.3% – “better”, and only for 13.5% – worse.
What are we winning?
Working remotely opened a lot of opportunities to American and global employees – cross-border job markets, no commute, and the ability to move from more expensive downtowns to cheaper suburbs.
In fact, according to a Times article, pre-pandemic workforce struggled to find a home close to their offices. In 2021, house prices rose up to 30%, especially in high-demand areas like Mountain View, the homeland of Google HQ.
The pending property crisis was partly mitigated by the remote work shift, allowing families to relocate to rural areas and get bigger, more affordable housing.
Since most got to choose where we live and no longer had to spend hours in traffic, working remotely brought about obvious time gains.
It gave families more time to be together and enabled employees to discover new hobbies, spend more time on house chores, and, in some cases, get a side gig.
What about job productivity? With more people focusing on out-of-the-office commitments, wouldn’t work efficiency plummet? The studies prove the contrary – employees are more productive when they work from home and are in charge of their time.
Meanwhile, executives are “looking forward to being together again”.
While there is consensus in favor of remote work from home in the employee camp, C-level executives aren’t quite on the same page. According to Slack’s survey, 44% of leaders want to see their teams face-to-face every day.
75% of executives are ready to show up at the office three to five days a week but only 34% of employees feel the same way.
Slack calls this phenomenon the “executive-employee disconnect” and claims that “the office looks different from the top”.
Why is remote work not good enough for team leaders?
Working from home has a lot of organizational benefits: the ability to fight talent shortage by hiring globally, operating cost reduction (no need to pay for offices, refurbishment, equipment, etc.), and more inclusivity within teams.
How come these advantages aren’t encouraging executives to keep working remotely? The truth is, there are quite a few skeletons in the remote work closet.
The brain drain and employee retention
While working remotely allows employees to hire people all over the world, the same is true the other way around. With the entire world at their fingertips, job-seekers are becoming more selective about their next projects.
As a result, hiring costs skyrocketed: last year, companies paid 43% more per applicant compared to 2020.
Another roadblock to remote work policy is talent retention. Without a sense of organizational unity, remote employees don’t feel attached to their workplaces and are likely to start looking for new opportunities as soon as their current jobs don’t meet their demands.
Performance tracking and control
Another remote work challenge team leaders admit to is the lack of oversight and control. Even with the KPIs met and record-breaking productivity, managers struggle not knowing when teammates are available and not seeing them actively work on tasks.
To keep teams in check, leaders increasingly rely on surveillance tools but these lack the seamlessness of office space.
Spontaneous interactions and creativity
The leaders of creative teams are highly affected by the artificial workflows of remote work. The CEO of Curion, shared his pains about remote work transition to CNN Business:
“What we are really missing is that creativity, and that spontaneity and the ingenuity and talking to your teammates face-to-face. The whole creativity has kind of been gutted without people being together. I’ve seen a big cultural effect of connecting to your co-workers.”
This is a common concern across teams – the inability to start spontaneous discussions, casually chat, or ask an in-passing question has been detrimental to team building, employee onboarding, and workplace engagement. Remote work may have made it easier for teams to do their job but it made it harder to build relationships and long-lasting connections.
Since team leaders are most affected by the lack of organizational unity, they are advocating for a return to the office.
If we want to bridge the disconnect, we need to find the middle ground
In the last two years, there’s been a lot of spotlight on the crises our healthcare and education infrastructure had to endure since the start of the pandemic. Zooming in on the drawbacks and crises, we may have overseen the positive developments brought over by the pandemic, such as the shift to hybrid work.
While future-facing companies had long accepted remote work as the future, for others, the pandemic became the driving force for digital transformation, improved workplace flexibility, and global, inclusive teams.
Studies and reports prove that remote work is here to stay and the growing pains that come along with its adoption are predictable. To keep their teams afloat, leaders should look for ways to bond without having to share physical space.
As always, technology comes to the rescue.
A virtual office: best of both worlds
Until 2020, most people used the term “virtual office” to indicate a PO box and an address that technically belongs to the company, indicating its presence in a given region.
After COVID hit, the concept centered around digital spaces where teams can host meetings, and events, chat casually, and work the way they would at a virtual office. At oVice, we were at the start of this movement, releasing our product in 2020.
Over time, we saw more enterprise teams from Japan, Korea, and other countries move to oVice.
To them, the platform became a mix of autonomy and freedom brought forth by remote work and casual communication, streamlined collaboration, and seamless oversight integral to working at offices.
A virtual office has unique ways of mitigating the challenges remote and in-person employees face.
It offers employees:
- Freedom over their working time and environment
- Ability to focus on tasks without being distracted (they will only hear the voices of people directly approaching them)
- Comfortable way to ask quick questions and discuss ideas
- Room for making connections and overcoming COVID isolations.
As for managers, oVice became:
- A way to seamlessly oversee teams without using intrusive surveillance tools.
- An opportunity for cost-cutting that freed teams from the need to rent office spaces in expensive areas.
- A hub for self-expression through custom layouts, creative games, and events.
- A tool for external communication: much like a physical space, oVice can be used to run client presentations, host external events, and partner meetings.
- A shortcut for setting up video calls and scrum meetings.
When working on oVice, we had accessibility as our key focus. To fully reap the benefits of the space, teams don’t need to own AR/VR sets, use extra bandwidth or computing power. The platform has an easy-to-use 2D interface that doesn’t distract teams from completing their to-do lists and hitting milestones.