Are we going to take stock of remote work?
After the pandemic forced offices to close, millions of people converted homes and apartments into workspaces and helped keep their businesses afloat. Many want to continue working remotely and employers have spoken of adopting hybrid models.
But there is a big gap.
While most employees think remote working is beneficial and increases performance, most managers take a negative view.
In a July survey of 817 supervisors, nearly three-quarters said they would prefer all subordinates to work in the office. A good portion, 42%, sometimes forget about teleworkers when assigning tasks.
Perhaps the most disturbing result: Two-thirds of supervisors said they considered remote workers “more easily replaceable” than on-site workers.
“It scares me for those who work remotely,” said Liz Petersen, quality manager of the HR Knowledge Center at the Society of Human Resources Management, which conducted the survey. â€œThe biggest concern is that it depends on your industry, your business, your culture and management, as well as your employees. Remote working will not be for everyone.
From late June to early July, about 1.74 million employees in Dallas-Fort Worth used remote work due to the pandemic, according to the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. That is down by nearly a million from December, when hospitalizations for COVID-19 peaked.
But it’s still much bigger than in 2019, when 250,000 employees worked from home at D-FW.
Remote work has become so popular that most would take a pay cut to keep it. Almost 30% would change jobs if they were forced to come full-time, according to a survey by McKinsey & Co.
Yet some employers insist that meeting in person is essential to collaborate, develop skills, create a sense of belonging, network and be a mentor.
McKinsey warned of the disconnect in a July report titled, â€œIt’s Time for Executives to Realize the Hybrid. “
Companies want to bring workers back to the office in droves, but employees resist, and that could scare people away. Nearly 4 million American workers left their jobs in April, the highest monthly number on record.
â€œEmployers face the growing disconnect between how they and their employees see the future,â€ the McKinsey report said. “At best, the rosy message of a big comeback to the office falls flat.”
At worst, it could lead to waves of departures, what McKinsey has called â€œthe big attritionâ€ of 2021 and beyond.
The way forward begins with recognizing that it will take time to figure this out, said Mihir Mysore, co-author of the report and partner in McKinsey’s Houston office. It is difficult, he says, to disentangle conflicting messages from employees.
They often complain about not being able to disconnect from their work and keep their personal lives separate, which suggests that working remotely causes burnout. They also say they don’t want to go back to the office due to mental stress, which suggests they want to continue working from home.
â€œWhat we suspect is that different segments of the employee population are sending different types of messages,â€ Mysore said.
Veteran workers with family responsibilities may have made stronger bonds with their children and spouses while working at home. Many also developed other good habits during the pandemic.
They “find it hard to let go of this because they are safe in their city, safe in their network and safe in their net worth,” Mysore said.
But many young workers are eager to gain experience and develop deeper relationships. Mysore quoted a youngster from a corporate client who complained about not having enough opportunities – literally to work.
He said his supervisors had more time and therefore did more of the work he did before, Mysore said.
Remote work dominates the conversation in the job market. In a July survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm, 172 human resources and business executives were asked what drives so many to quit. Almost 74% said workers want more flexibility, by far the main problem.
â€œSupervisors may say these workers are replaceable, but more employees think companies are replaceable right now,â€ said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of the company.
He said it has never been easier for recruiters to reach candidates as they work from home with no friends or colleagues nearby. The corporate culture and “connective tissue” that bound many employees and employers have frayed during the pandemic, he added.
â€œI’m calling people today about job opportunities, and every person is picking up,â€ Challenger said. â€œThe workforce situation is so tough and the talent shortage is so real that I think companies are just capitulating to hybrid and remote work. “
NTT Data Services has lost some employees to recruiters, but not because of the flexibility of the workplace, said Eric Clark, chief digital officer and strategy.
The vast majority of workers have been removed since the start of the pandemic, including 3,000 at its US headquarters in Plano. Early on, the company said it would adopt a hybrid model, and Clark said it was open to people working from home all the time.
â€œIn almost all cases, we’re pretty comfortable with that if they’re productive,â€ Clark said. â€œWe’re really focused on empowering the worker in these situations.
NTT Data, which provides IT services around the world, has been outsourcing for years. Even before the pandemic, employees were using technology to build major systems rather than assembling a â€œwar roomâ€ of experts on site.
â€œWhether you’re at home or in a remote office building, it doesn’t really matter,â€ Clark said. â€œAnd we don’t forget our teleworkers. “
NTT Data isn’t rushing back to the office, not with the soaring delta variant and new masking guidelines. The company has invested in virtual ways to collaborate and employees are improving in their digital engagements, he said.
But many still yearn for face-to-face interactions, and he’s worried about long hours working remotely.
â€œIt’s a success and the productivity continues to increase,â€ said Clark. “But I’m starting to wonder how long we can keep it going.”