Ready to go back to Zoom? You’re not alone

You thought you’d never be anxious to stare at that grid on the screen. Yet, after a month in the office, you’re thinking about it. You’re not alone. Millions of workers are right there with you.

Employees like options

Depending on the survey you read, between 3% and 40% of employees want to work from their offices. Even if you accept that high number, it’s still not a majority. And yet most companies have indicated that their employees will be returning to work in the office this year, if they haven’t already. This includes tech giants like Apple and industry leaders like geographic software maker Esri. Companies like these aren’t anxious to squander the millions of dollars they spent on physical upgrades and gorgeous buildings.

Employees, by and large, enjoy the option of working from home, especially when there is some sort of emergency. Whether it’s extreme traffic, weather, or just a kid with a runny nose, employees overwhelmingly support the idea of working from home when it saves them time or lowers their stress level.

What about the theory of “random interactions?”

For the last decade, organizational theory has been centered on increasing social interactions in the workplace. Employers were told that eliminating walls and even actively shuffling workers would lead to social bonds that strengthened company culture. Yet, it may not be true. While you can find a lot of motivational articles on the internet about this, there are few that give real data. This study from the UK takes a serious approach to the question. They overwhelmingly found that increasing interactions in the workplace did help in low-skill jobs, the sort of jobs that would probably be place-dependent anyway. But once you get to higher-skilled office jobs, the benefit goes away. This study is from 2016, before we had as much evidence on remote work as we do today. Still, it seems unlikely that future studies will say anything different.

Interestingly, most of the articles that champion working from home talk about the benefit to the employee, while most of the articles that champion working from the office talk about the benefit to the organization. That sets up an automatic conflict where employees may feel that their needs aren’t being considered.

Looking at things as a whole

There clearly are people who really want and need an office environment. They may need the structure or ache for the human contact. And, just as importantly, there are a lot of people for whom office life is stressful. It seems that the smart employer will weigh every case individually, looking at how both the company and the staff can benefit.

It doesn’t have to be this or that

We’re in the middle of this gigantic social experiment. In the last 18 months, we’ve learned the benefits and limitations of having a large portion of the staff working from home. Companies that never thought they could survive with a remote workforce have learned that it’s very possible. And now, we begin the next part of the experiment.

As employees come back into the office, many may miss the work-from-home environment. Traffic is at all-time highs in many cities in the country, and it threatens worker productivity. A stressed worker who needs to add four hours to the workday just for traffic isn’t going to be as productive during the day. At the same time, people have obviously become more aware of taking care of their own health. Many people who would have just “toughed it out” with a minor cold have found they would rather stay home now. They are still able to be productive in a more flexible environment, and they would rather not get the rest of their coworkers sick.

Room for flexibility

We have all proven that work-from-home is possible. Now, the question is, how can employers find a balance that benefits everyone? Employers who offer only work-from-home may be missing out on those people who need a workplace environment. They may also lose the option for team-building activities and find it harder to build company culture. On the other hand, employers who only offer a traditional office will surely lose out on qualified, valuable team members. Limiting your employee pool to only those who live within fair distance from your office, and who thrive in a people-heavy environment may mean losing out on some real superstars.

The important thing to remember, as we move into the second half of 2021, and out of a year or more of enforced work-from-home restrictions, is that we don’t have to be done innovating. The labor market is exciting right now, and there’s more opportunity than ever for a smart employer to take advantage of that. Employers who don’t will lose out on advantages and won’t attract the next generation of talent.

Don’t miss out

During the last 18 months, more people have bought their work-from-home gear at Solid Signal than ever before. We’re still here for you. Shop Solid Signal now for everything you need, from convertible desks to cables and accessories.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.