Remote, hybrid or just in the office: where and when we do our jobs had become the biggest workplace debate of our time.
It is also a very good measure of the relative power of workers and bosses.
Right now, in many cases, management is in a pretty weak position when it comes to office politics.
There are many jobs for knowledge workers who are unhappy with the way they are treated. And there’s a lot of truth to the adage that workers don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers.
The past two years have also taught many knowledge workers that they can be efficient and have a better work-life balance with more remote work in their week, even if their micromanagers have struggled with the idea.
The booming job market and this enthusiasm for remote work has made it harder for companies to enforce their back-to-work mandates.
And, now, for anyone who has joined a company in the past two years, some kind of remote or hybrid work is the only type of work they’ve all experienced. Whether middle managers like it or not, hybrid and remote working is the new norm.
But that doesn’t mean things can’t change anymore. And quick.
There will likely be a testing period ahead, if, as many indicators suggest, the economy soon begins to dip into difficult territory.
This is when the relative power of employers and employees can begin to change again. And it might be closer than many think.
There is evidence that employers may already be offering less work from home for developers, even in a strong market. Some bosses have even issued ultimatums to staff to return to the office or walk out. And while workers believe they are personally good at working from home, they are unconvinced of the hard work of their own colleagues.
Of course, there will be nuances to all of this. A deteriorating economic outlook may convince some organizations to downsize or get rid of expensive offices and move to remote or hybrid working for everyone.
But perhaps bosses are more likely to feel that in a tougher economic climate they have a stronger bargaining position and can force staff back into the office – or whatever.
This could mean that for some businesses, the return-to-office plans they reluctantly abandoned will make a comeback.
Still, if managers really want people back in the office, that’s probably the wrong way to approach it.
Persuasion and explanation is better policy. There are many things that are better in the office, especially around culture building and innovation. And a good proportion of staff (especially those early in their careers who can benefit from mentoring and networking) who can benefit from having their peers present.
Rather than waiting to have the upper hand economically, bosses should explain why they think their plan is better – and back that up over time with evidence and data. This way, they can give their office work plans a boost, regardless of the economic outlook. Either way, it’s a debate that will run and run; expect twists and turns.
MONDAY OPENING OF ZDNET
ZDNet’s Monday Opening is our first tech release of the week, written by members of our editorial team.