Many companies are backtracking on remote work, demanding their employees go back to the office - although many might not wish to do so.
More than three years after remote working became the rule of the land during the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home is facing pushback, with several companies calling for their employees to come back to the office and tech industry titans openly condemning the practice.
In May, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman declared that remote work was a “failed experiment”, calling it one of the tech industry’s “worst mistakes in a long time” and claiming that the practice harms creativity, especially for start-ups.
In March, Elon Musk told Twitter employees that the office “is not optional.”
In June, Google informed its employees that they would have to spend at least three days a week in the office, while office attendance would be positively considered in their performance review, as reported first by the Wall Street Journal.
Some of the biggest newspapers in the world, like the New York Times, have published opinion pieces that claim that remote working is failing young employees and depriving workers of the communal experience of a shared workplace this year.
But is remote work really failing, as companies believe?
“Absolutely no,” Mansoor Soomro, future of work enthusiast and senior lecturer in Sustainability and International Business at Teesside University in the UK, told Euronews.
“Based on the surveys, the meetings, and interviews that we’re conducting, it hasn’t failed. Remote work is not going anywhere,” he said.
So what’s really going on? Experts say the situation is more complicated than saying whether remote work has failed or succeeded.
Renegotiating remote work
“What happened during COVID-19 led to an initial perception that things will change quite significantly post-pandemic, that there would be this move to increased remote working, and that there was no way in which the tide would turn,” Mark Stuart, lecturer at the Leeds University Business School, told Euronews.
While employers were “quite comfortable” with the idea of workers staying at home, Stuart said, in the past 12 months we’ve seen companies increasingly asking their employees to go back to the office.
“What’s happening now is a process of renegotiation between employers and their workforce in terms of what remote working is going to look like in the future,” Stuart said.
While there are workers who have never been able to work remotely, not even during the pandemic, there are plenty who still have flexible arrangements with their employees and work either full-time or part-time from home.
Those working remotely appreciate ditching the commute, cutting the costs of going to the office, and even having a better work-life balance, Stuart said, while those who prefer working in the office appreciate the sociability of it, the networking, and the spontaneity.
Remote work vs returning to the office
Stuart thinks that the renegotiation of remote work is going to lead to “various tensions” between employees and employers, resulting in the current strain felt by workers across several industries, who are protesting stagnating wages which haven’t kept up with inflation.
“But a lot of it’s going to come down to local agreements and supportive line managers,” he said. “Line managers have to get used to having teams and staff that aren’t in the office all the time and that are remote working remotely, but it’s got to be a sort of mutual acceptance of this”.
Stuart thinks that it’s more likely that the renegotiation of remote work will lead to a compromise between what workers might want - more days working from home - and what employers might require - more days in the office.
Soomro strongly believes that remote work is here to stay.
“People have moved, and they don’t want to commute,” he said. “People have adjusted to the newly discovered flexibility and they don’t want to let it go”.
To make the office more attractive to workers, companies will have to offer perks and “make the place cosier,” Soomro said - but a mass return of all workers seems unlikely for now.