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Work from home vs. returning to the office

Remote work

Paying rent for an empty office. Remote work in 2022 and beyond

Working from home forces changes to the work environment

Back in March of 2020, no one knew if they would be in the office or at home. COVID was running rampant with no vaccine in sight. Employers needed to adapt. The biggest change to the workplace was a mass transition to remote work. Our company in Seattle was no different. As time passed, employees and employers made more changes:

  • Employees moved out of the city and state to areas with more affordable housing and less congested traffic
  • Employers started hiring remote workers
  • Employees moved back home to take care of loved ones. But, unfortunately, home for many in Seattle meant moving out of state.

HR needs to be with the people Yo!

I have worked in HR all my life and never thought I would see a day where HR would be working from home.

HR’s job is t0 create a work environment where employees are productive. The goal is to ensure employees are focused on work. I don’t want employees distracted by their compensation or how the company handles diversity, politics, or COVID, to name just a few. An environment where employees feel welcome and safe is where we will be able to increase trust and tenure. All of these are good for the business. In a pre COVID world, this was done by building relationships in face-to-face interactions.

Thankfully, our company not only survived COVID, but we also thrived. We had our best year in 2020 and a better year working remotely in 2021. I want to think that our employees were less distracted because they were working where they felt safe. 

March of 2022

Before COVID, we were a “work in the office” company. Our company was under 100 employees and wanted employees in the office so we could build an excellent foundation for company culture. Working in the office was purposeful. We wanted solid and personal relationships so we could scale. 

Vaccines are now readily accessible, and the COVID situation is relatively stable. Many large tech companies are asking employees to return to the office. As restrictions eased, we gave everyone a choice. Work where you want, work where you are productive. For 95% of the employees, the choice was to work from home. 

We are now 300+ employees. We hired close to 100 employees during COVID and at the same time sub-leased an entire floor of office space. Surveys confirmed that most of our employees wanted to work from home. So the office became a “meeting” place vs. a “work at your desk” space.

Employees want flexibility

It’s April 2022, and I am surprised by how many companies require employees to work in the office. We have grown by 3X through COVID. Many of these new employees joined us because their employer required a return to the office. One of the first questions that candidates ask me is, “What is your work environment like? Can employees work from home”. Most candidates share at least one of the following:

  • “I love my current company and wanted to work there for a long time, but leadership wants everyone back in the office full time.”
  • “The company I work for had a record year when we were forced to work from home, but the CEO still wants us in the office.”
  • “My company requires me to work 1-5 days a week in the office.”

A free lunch isn’t going to get me into the office 

I have heard all the reasons why employees should be in the office. I have listened to all the ideas for getting employees to come into the office.  Everybody is an HR genius! I was even asked to keep COVID tests in the office!  (This way, if you are infected, you can come into the office to test yourself and infect everyone!)

Reasons for returning to the office:

    • Collaboration can only happen face to face!
    • So how do we brainstorm without a whiteboard?
    • We are paying a lot of rent for this empty office space

How to get people in the office:

    • Host a free lunch
    • Bring in a keg
    • We should show movies on Fridays 

It’s expensive to get to work

Seattle is one of the more expensive cities to buy a home with lengthy commutes. Like most of my colleagues, I live outside of Seattle because that is where I can afford to live. I live 30 miles from work, and my commute is around 60 minutes one way. I drive a late model truck that gets about 17 miles a gallon. With gas prices where they are, I spend $20.00 a day on gas. In addition, I am paying $32.00 a day for parking. I am looking at $52.00 a day and 2 hours of commuting.  Pony rides and dancing girls won’t be enough to get me in the office regularly. This is coming from the guy who is responsible for company culture.  Movies???  Who is collaborating and meeting with colleagues during a meeting? 

Part of the 2%

Currently, this “role model” for office culture is making it into the office 1-to two days a week. I am part of a 2% minority in this regard. Yes, I realize that as an exec in the company, I have no right to be complaining about commuting costs. But if conditions make an exec re-consider coming in, what is it like for folks early in their career?  

$1M question: Why do we want employees in the office?

If you are a manager or exec asking your employees to come into the office, I would reconsider the following:

Are business reasons or personal preferences influencing your decisions? Google posted record profits in 2021. Our company had a record year in 2021. We proved to ourselves that we could be productive working from home.

We need to learn and grow.

With or without COVID, we all need to improve our game year over year. The improvement includes the skill set of managing and building collaboration remotely. I believe that if we don’t adapt, our employees will. They will adapt by finding a flexible employer. 

It’s a competitive market, and the employee is at an advantage. Employees are finding employers who embrace remote work.

Leaders know better

I understand that older generations believe that face-to-face collaboration is “better.” We think that we know what is best for an employee’s career, and I agree that face-to-face collaboration is a good thing. Many employees were hired during COVID and never met their skip-level manager or exec. It’s easier to get promoted when the executive of your department knows who you are and has a personal connection. 

Will older generations (decision-makers and execs) be able to convince younger generations that they know what is best for the employee’s career? How many parents can convince their children that “I know what’s best for your career”? Did we listen to our parents when we were in our 20s and 30? I didn’t listen to my father. Then, when I turned 45, I realized he was brilliant with career advice.

Thank you

To all the leaders out there, I get it. You want folks in the office, and you know best. You are probably right. But employees are distracted by the logistics of coming into the office. The logistics translate to a loss of focus on work. So unless you are Darth Vadar and strong with the Force, we will continue to interview your employees. 

See you at the after-party,

 

HRNasty

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, ridiculously good, tricky, and manipulative but with the result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone good at something. “He has a nasty forkball.”

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