The hypocrisy of forcing employees back to the office

Forcing employees back to the office under the guise of collaboration and culture is a failure of leadership, says Mark Muphy:

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Mar 4, 2024
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

In the wake of the global pandemic, the world of work underwent a seismic shift.

For the first time, a significant portion of the workforce experienced the benefits of remote work – flexible hours, no commute, and the comfort of home.

Yet, as the world continues to normalize, many companies are demanding employees return to the office, citing collaboration and culture as key reasons.

However, this mandate exposes a glaring hypocrisy in corporate leadership and a failure to understand what truly drives productivity and employee engagement.

An idealized vision

Let’s question the validity of the reasoning behind this push.

Are employees genuinely experiencing a surge in collaborative meetings and cultural enrichment upon returning to the office?

Often, the reality is far from this idealized vision.

Employees find themselves commuting to the office only to sit at their desks, engaging in the same tasks they performed at home, isolated by cubicles and headphones.

This scenario begs the question: what are the true motives behind this insistence on physical presence?

Distrust still pervades

The answer lies in the underlying discomfort and mistrust some leaders have towards remote work.

There’s a lingering belief that without physical oversight, employees might not be genuinely working.

This is a stark reflection of outdated management styles that equate presence with productivity.

Such a mindset fails to acknowledge the evolution of work dynamics and the proven capabilities of remote workers.

Let’s hear the data

In a recent report on employee engagement, remote employees, unencumbered by constant oversight, were 87% more likely to love their jobs compared to their office-bound counterparts.

This is not mere coincidence but a testament to the effectiveness of remote work.

Employees who are trusted to manage their own time can focus on output rather than hours logged, leading to higher job satisfaction and productivity.

And if you’re skeptical that those findings would look the same in your company, an employee engagement survey is a fast way to prove (or disprove), your hypothesis.

For the current situation exposes a critical flaw in leadership: the inability to measure productivity by results rather than time spent at a desk.

This outdated approach ignores the efficiency and effectiveness of remote work.

In a study on workplace interruptions, office workers were often plagued by constant interruptions, limiting their ability to engage in deep, focused work.

The irony is that these very distractions are less prevalent in a remote setting, where employees can better manage their time and environment to maximize productivity.

Office, schm-office

Leaders must recognize that if there is no concrete data showing improved performance in the office, the location of work should not matter.

What should matter is the quality and quantity of work produced.

If companies insist on bringing employees back to the office, it should be for reasons genuinely benefiting the organization and its employees, not due to unfounded fears and outdated management practices.

Forcing employees back to the office under the guise of collaboration and culture, while ignoring the realities of office life and the benefits of remote work, is not just hypocritical – it’s a failure of leadership.

It’s time for leaders to evolve, to trust their employees, and to focus on what truly matters: the results.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.