Employers Who Force Workers Back to the Office Will Regret Their Actions

For the past 16 months, millions of employees have been working remotely. With the stock market at all-time highs, and economic activity, including employment gains, GDP growth, and virtually every other metric one could think of, improving at a rapid pace, there can be no argument that these employees are not every bit as productive, if not more so, than they were when they were required to work in an office setting.

Scores of companies, and especially larger firms, are gearing up to force their employees to go back to the office. Many are claiming that the vast majority of their employees want to go back. This position is not supported by the many surveys that these very companies have taken of their employees, or by the many independent surveys of workers that have been undertaken. The consensus from the data, in general, shows that about one-third of workers would like to work remotely full time, about one-third would prefer a hybrid schedule, and about one-third prefer to work in the office full time.

Despite this data, again, many companies are claiming that the overwhelming majority of their employees want to go back to the office full time. While the specific desires of employees may vary somewhat by company, it is safe to say that their are literally millions of employees across the U.S. that would prefer to work remotely.

It is difficult to understand the reasoning of companies that intend to force employees to go back to the office. Almost every company, large or small, has some type of diversity and inclusion policy. Within the survey data, groups targeted by these policies, namely minorities and LGBTQ+, overwhelming favor remote work because they believe that working remotely reduces the likelihood that they will experience discrimination, but rather will be judged solely by the quality of their work.

Beyond diversity and inclusion, if we just focus on the almighty dollar, there are compelling reasons that any company should want to allow remote work. Most companies have a substantial portion of their cost structures tied-up in real estate. Lease expense, electricity, parking, cleaning, staffing, management, HR issues, insurance, and more. All of these expenses could be reduced substantially, or completely eliminated through remote work.

Most companies also have a policy addressing their carbon footprint and climate change. If a company truly wants to make a positive impact on the environment, there are few more effective ways they could accomplish this, then by allowing employees to work from home, rather than driving to and from work every day, burning gasoline sitting in traffic, polluting the atmosphere. Dry cleaning is another serious contributor to environmental damage that could be avoided. The reduction in electricity used at offices, the cleaning products used, people driving to lunch every day…. all of these could be reduced or eliminated with remote work.

Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is another huge benefit of remote work. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year, sending money to oil producing countries. Military expenditures are in the hundred of billions, even if we are not involved in a war. Wars are obviously even more expensive, not only in dollar terms, but in human lives. The U.S. could easily become self-sufficient with regard to energy if workers were not forced to drive to work every day.

These same companies also claim they care about their employees. There is no better way to improve the quality of life of an employee, than to provide them with more flexibility as to their work schedule. More time with family, more personal time to pursue hobbies, freedom to live wherever they like, the reduction of expenses for cars, gasoline, dry cleaning, housing, and the like so that employees have more money… the list goes on.

There can be no doubt that remote work provides substantial benefits, to companies, workers, society as a whole, and to the environment. Regardless of whether or not companies agree to offer remote work options, remote work is here to stay. Employees, and especially younger workers, will demand these options. If they are not allowed to work remote at their current employer, they will quit and go to a competitor that will allow them to work remotely. Over time, all companies will be forced to offer remote work options, whether they want to or not. Those companies that embrace remote work earlier will have a strong competitive advantage, as they will be able to attract the most talented workers who desire remote work options. Those companies that resist remote work will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage, as they will lose highly talented workers to their competitors who offer remote work options. Publicly-traded companies will see their financial performance suffer, and ultimately will see their stock prices underperform. Executive managers, and especially CEOs who refuse to embrace remote work will find themselves facing early retirement, as boards of directors replace them with younger CEOs who understand the benefits of remote work.

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