As you probably know by now, I’m a supporter of working from home. I believe that when it’s possible, it can provide an increased quality of life for the employee – and a cost savings for the employer. But, it’s starting to become more common for employers to require workers to come back anyway. And, the reasoning is surprising.
I recently learned that some employers are claiming that those who prefer work from home are hiding something. In particular, they are hiding mental health and addiction issues. In other words, the only reason you might want to work from home is if you have a problem you don’t want your boss to know about.
This news is disheartening at best. Through the pandemic, it has been proven that many office workers can work effectively at home. On top of being more efficient at work, many employees have seen their stress levels drop and their personal time increase.
There are many logical reasons leaders may want their people to be back in the physical office. For example, not every job can be performed in a work from home setting. And, if you’re leading an organization where only a portion of the jobs can be remote, you may want everyone to come back together. It may increase the feeling of community and equity across various parts of the organization.
There are also some workers who genuinely prefer working from the office. They appreciate the structure that it creates. They like the separation of home and work that going to the office provides. They enjoy the casual moments of community with coworkers.
There are many legitimate reasons an employer may prefer for their employees to come back in person to a centralized office location. But, to shift blame to employees is wrong. The vast majority of those who enjoy working from home enjoy it for reasons that are no secret. It’s not because there is something wrong with them. It’s not because they’re using substances during the workday, or are shielding the employer from their mental health struggles.
Don’t get me wrong. Many employees did in fact experience mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Truly, what did anyone expect from a pandemic? It’s a pandemic. It’s possible that working from home may have helped bridge the gap for some people during a tough patch. But, the idea that all work from home supporters are hiding something is just not true.
If you need your employees to go back to a physical office, be honest. Explain the real reasons that the company believes it makes sense. Then, listen to your employees. Hear their concerns. Work together to come up with a solution that works for both sides of the equation.
Don’t turn on your employees. Don’t pressure them to come back out of fear or shame. As a leader, your role is to inspire others to want to follow your vision.
It’s been two years since we were sent home from work for two weeks. We were collectively wrong about the two weeks, but many workers have been relieved. We learned so much about work over the last two years.
We found that working remotely is not only possible, it’s preferred. Workers are more productive, and overall, they’re happier. We can create customized work environments that work best for us. Commuting is no longer required. And, it’s cheaper for employers. One of the only good things to come from the pandemic has been the flexibility and work life balance introduced with work from home.
So, why are employers now trying to drag their employees back to the office?
Many companies say they need people to be in person in order to form better relationships. Some say it will make us more productive. Others say we need to be in “the building” in order to get real work done. But, what is really going on here? If a company is still in business after two years of work from home, it has been more than proven that work from home is possible.
Returning to the office appears to be driven from two places. Within the organization, older managers struggle with the remote transition more than anyone else. Outside of the organization, cities are struggling to keep their downtowns thriving without business commuters.
This is the problem with both. Neither takes into account the needs and wants of the individual worker. And, both deny the fact that it has now been proven that working from home is possible. Both companies and cities need to become more creative in their problem solving. Rather than chase the past, what exists in the future?
If a company feels that employees are disconnected, that company should look for new ways to connect folks. Perhaps they could schedule more teambuilding activities via video. Or, maybe they could bring everyone together once a month for an in person event.
For struggling downtown areas, what other options exist to revive the economy? Housing is certainly expensive. Perhaps empty office buildings could be repurposed as less expensive apartments. Maybe there are other ways to revitalize downtowns.
We can no longer live in the past. Fighting with employees who prefer to work from home only serves one purpose. It will be the reason those employees apply for jobs at other companies. There are too many options to settle for something that’s not what the employee prefers. And, it’s too late to convince anyone that we need to be together to be productive. That is just not true.
For many organizations, this will be a difficult learning process. They will force employees to come back to work. Those employees will leave. Then, the same organizations will struggle to find anyone who wants to sit in their seats at work.
Listen to your people and learn the lesson.
For my entire life, there’s been a topic that people talk to me about: my height. That’s right, I’m tall. Without shoes on, I’m five feet ten inches, but with the right shoes, I’m quickly over six feet tall. Whether I’m at work or at the grocery store, people love to cover this topic.
Once, my height even became the centerpiece of a job interview. The hiring manager seemed shocked, repeatedly saying that he had no idea I was so tall, and how could no one have told him. As you can imagine, it was a strange job interview.
But, it didn’t stop there. This company had recently built a new, beautiful campus. Five people interviewed me in addition to the hiring manager. They were incredibly impressive, with Ivy League degrees. Each person told me about an amazing basketball court that was part of the new campus. I thought, “This group of people really likes basketball!” It didn’t occur to me until later that they all assumed I played basketball and would want to see the court.
However, something has happened since March of 2020. No one has said a word about my height in job interviews or at work. This is because all of my meetings are now held via Zoom.
It’s interesting how differently things appear through a camera. I no longer know how tall or how short someone is. I know longer can see much about their physical build. I can’t see details like their shoes or their nail polish. I can’t as easily guess someone’s age.
Many of the visual cues that we use to read another person’s background are hidden. Clues like shoes can be an indicator of social class. It can let others know if the person grew up with money or is struggling to make their own way. And, sometimes, even when you are qualified to do a job, a company may not hire you if you don’t seem to fit in. You may not look the part.
The same goes for location. When we work in person, we’re more aware of whether or not someone lives in the hip part of town or the rich part of town or the undesirable part of town. When you’re working remotely, your teammates are very likely in different cities. They rarely have any idea what the neighborhood you live in looks like.
It’s also more likely that people with different cultural backgrounds, and political and religious views will work together today. Why? Because teams are now made up of people from different areas. And, people from different areas are more likely to have diverse viewpoints.
In a certain way, Zoom is leveling playing field. It takes away many of the pieces of irrelevant information that people often use to sort one another into buckets. In a way, it allows your work to speak for itself more now than ever before.
It’s the month of love! Happy Valentine’s week! Every year, I write about why it’s important to love your job. This year, let’s look at it another way. If you don’t love your job, it may be time to break it off. It’s time to end that toxic five day per week relationship. You wouldn’t put up with this in a romantic partner. Why are you putting up with it at work?
I know, it’s hard to do. Your job has been so reliable. It’s stable. It’s gotten you through two years of a pandemic. You don’t want to be left in the cold with no job.
But, are you really happy? Does your job put you first? Or, is your job like a partner who’s draining you?
You spend too much time with your job not to love it. In fact, you may spend more time with your job than with your spouse.
If you’re having cold feet about your job, this is the time to make a change. And, by this is the time, I mean – right this minute! The job market is the best that it’s been in a very long time. Economists say that it hasn’t been this great since the late 1960s. New job postings are showing up every day online.
You’ve probably heard that old saying. People don’t quit companies, they quit bosses. It’s true. If you don’t love your company or your boss, do yourself a favor. Look and see what’s new in your job field. You may be surprised.
Make a list of all the things you want in a job. What would make you really love your work? Do you want to work for a great boss? On a great team? Do you want to work on a product that you can get behind? Are you looking for a company with integrity? Do you want to work from home, or in person?
Write down your goal list and start looking for it. What you’re hoping for is out there. Don’t stay committed to a company that’s not committed to you. Look for something better, something more fulfilling. Make your happiness at work a priority.
Breaking up with your job isn’t as hard as it sounds. Don’t tell anyone until you’ve secured a new job. Once you’ve found a new job, wait until you’ve accepted it in writing to tell your boss. Thank them for the opportunity and let them know you’ve found something new. Give at least two weeks of notice, but not more than four. Things can get stressful if you give too much notice. After you’ve shared your news verbally, confirm it in an email. And, come up with a plan about how and when you’ll share the great news with the larger team.
Before long, the breakup will be complete. And, you’ll be off to a bigger and better opportunity that you love!
Over the course of my career, I’ve had the privilege of being both a full-time salaried employee, and a self-employed business owner. There are pros and cons that come with each. For example, when you’re an employee, you typically have perks such as health insurance and vacation. When you’re self-employed, you can select your hours of operation and make decisions about which clients you will or won’t take on.
There’s also another big difference between these two types of employment. When you’re self-employed, you pay for your own business expenses. If you have an office, that’s a business expense. If you purchase office furniture, that’s a business expense. Pens and paper are a business expense.
As a full-time employee, anything related to doing your job is typically paid for by your company. This could include anything from the office chair you sit in to electricity to the internet connection. It could include the paper you’re writing on and the pens you’re writing with.
But, has anyone noticed this trend shifting a bit? Part of the reason people are now working remotely is because there’s a big cost savings to companies. After all, companies were paying so much in rent for big office buildings, and all the related expenses that come along with them.
However, it seems unclear whether or not employees are benefitting financially in the same way as remote employees. I’ve heard from employees of people who have moved to a larger living space in order to now accommodate a home office. They’ve invested in home office furniture. They’ve upgraded their home internet package.
In this virtual world, it’s become very important that employees are self-sufficient. On top of having a great workspace, employees are now expected to use their personal phones for business. The lines between work and home have blurred more than ever before.
Most people aren’t talking about this issue, because who wants to go back to working in person? But, who is paying for all these home office upgrades? In many cases, it’s the employee. Occasionally, I have seen businesses that will mail out both office supplies and office furniture to employees, but it’s not the norm.
Most companies are sending employees a monthly stipend to cover their home expenses. Typically, the stipend is between $50 and $150 per month. For some people, this amount might cover the cost of their cell phone and internet. But rarely will it cover any of the other expenses employees are sinking into being a productive worker.
So, what is the real solution? This work from home revolution certainly wasn’t planned. It’s tough to blame employers for not being more prepared for it. That said, two years into work from home feels like a good time to reevaluate. We need to have conversations about the real cost of remote work. Otherwise, it begins to feel as if we’re all self-employed small business owners.