By: Jeff Nazzaro

One of the most disruptive and contentious negative consequences of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly centered around the mass exodus of workers from office buildings, and the various policies regarding their return. Unlike with past pandemics such as the notorious flu outbreak of 1918, today’s high-speed internet and teleconferencing applications made a retreat to remote work a viable possibility for today’s heretofore office-bound computer jockeys—so much so that it was becoming increasingly popular even before the pandemic—and now most of those don’t seem to want to go back. In fact, many insist a return from the comfy environs of the home office to the cubicle jungle just isn’t working.

“…a return to the cubicle jungle just isn’t working…”

Debates over productivity and morale will persist, but quantitative and qualitative data is beginning to emerge in support of employees staying home to work. In a study cited by Business News Daily, remote workers put in an average of 1.4 more days per month than their colleagues who have stayed in the office. Though the study doesn’t account for total hours worked, those extra days do add up to greater than three additional weeks of work over the course of a year. Additionally, most of the telecommuters surveyed said they have experienced increased productivity and overall healthier lifestyles. At the same time, those working from home also reported having a slightly more difficult time keeping their work-life ledgers balanced than the office folks, along with higher levels of workday stress and increased procrastination in completing tasks.

“…remote workers put in an average of 1.4 more days per month…”

Overall, however, the message being sent is that of a clear preference for working from home—and companies are listening. According to remote marketing firm Build Remote, a slew of major corporations have begun offering some form of permanently remote work to employees. Of the Fortune 100 companies whose policies have been made public, only Walmart and Tesla have instituted “office first” protocols and only Bank of America and TJ Maxx have “office only” stipulations in place. The rest, including Alphabet, Apple, and Meta, are offering some form of “remote first,” partial, or hybrid work accommodations for their white-collar staff.

A natural fit for the switch, Quora, the web-based social Q&A company headquartered in Mountainview, California, has gone pretty much whole hog in ditching their employees’ office space. In announcing the move, CEO Adam D’Angelo tweeted, “We are going fully remote first at Quora. Most of our employees have opted not to return to the office post-COVID. I will not work out of the office, our leadership teams will not be located in the office, and all policies will orient around remote work.”

There are probably as many reasons as there are workers for the ongoing resistance to the return, but the main driver behind the sentiment seems to be that employees, at first shocked by the telecommute shift, have come to cherish the ability to effectively customize their own lives, as well as the extra time that working remote affords. The most obvious is that the time spent preparing for and executing their daily commute can now be used in any number of more productive ways, from exercising to catching up on housework to easing into their work over coffee without the pitfalls of running into office latte machine chin-waggers.

“…employees have come to cherish the ability to customize their own lives…”

Research conducted by Future Forum beginning in June of 2020 shows that employee experience scores across all eight metrics they survey plunged to almost record lows among knowledge workers who have recently returned to a five-day in-office work week. Work-related stress and anxiety were up almost 30 percent, and perceptions of a healthy work-life balance were down almost 20 percent for this segment of the workforce. Findings like these almost certainly help inform the Great Resignation, seen as beginning in early 2021 and leading to record numbers of employees quitting or retiring from their jobs.

Beyond the increased freedom and flexibility afforded by remote work, many employees have simply realized they aren’t that fond of the physical office after all. And while they were initially happy to reconnect face-to-face with coworkers they hadn’t seen in person in almost two years, like a September return to school, the thrill soon was gone. Many, in particular younger workers, admit to not being fans of team-building social activities that often revolve around unhealthy food, alcohol, and unwanted attention.

“…employee experience scores plunged to almost record lows among workers who have returned to an in-office work week…”

Employees aren’t becoming antisocial, though; in a perhaps unexpected twist, online meeting scheduler Calendly has noticed an increase in intraoffice meetings among employees who have gotten up earlier than perhaps they had been for the last couple of years to once again all fight traffic to drive to the same building—it’s just that the meetings are taking place on Zoom.