… the remote working situation


If ever there was a time when employees and employers need to understand each other it’s now. The battle for whether workers will –- or even want to -– return to the office makes this an essential time to sit down together and talk … REALLY COMMUNICATE and LISTEN.

As reported by Bloomberg and broadcast by Andrew Murfett, Editor at LinkedIn News, recently said, “As the irrepressible drive to entice office workers back to their workstations continues, staff are pushing back hard. Confronted with the demand they abandon a ‘new normal’ they’ve grown accustomed to for over 15 months as remote workers, scores of employees say they’ll simply quit. A survey of 1,000 workers reported by Bloomberg found that 39 percent of workers are open to quitting their current role if their employer is unwilling to permit them to work remotely. That number grew to 49 percent among millennials and Gen Z workers emboldened by their ability to maintain their productivity at home.”

As an employer, maybe your first thought is to let them quit … but think about it: you’re talking about Generation Y, born between 1981 and 1996, and Generation Z, those born 1997-2010. That’s a massive part of today’s workforce – that’s anyone under 40 years old!

I would encourage you to do the math before you react. Do you know what percentage of your workforce makes up this group of employees? And, keep in mind, these groups are usually the most vocal. What about the rest of your workforce? What are they hearing and saying?

Perhaps you can look through the lens of those who work for you: they have spent the last year and a half reinventing their jobs just to make it work. They have taken up space in their homes to make room for office equipment, desks, and computer monitors. They’ve adapted to connecting for work via Zoom, Google Meet and/or Teams meetings at all hours of the day. And they’ve fielded phone calls from fellow staff members who were either early-birds or night owls. They have been either overmanaged or seemingly forgotten by their leaders. They are stressed. They are tired. They feel like they need a break.

Contrast this with the employers who are finally breathing a sigh of relief, believing that light at the end of the COVID tunnel may be near. They are happy to be getting back to normal. They have risked a lot trying to keep their employees busy and paid during a period of massive uncertainty and for some, a downturn of profits. They want to see their people at their workstations happily doing their work, just like it was before. They are stressed. They are tired. They are excited and ready to gear back up.

Joan Hibdon, the founder of jdhInsights, expressed that she has heard this battle cry and believes it is not just a threat. “Commuting time and costs, coupled with the trips to and from child-care are reasons workers don’t want to go back to the old 8-5 office environment. People realize that they no longer want to have their usual hour+ commute into work. They have learned it’s not necessary to being productive at work. They have had time with their family and have enjoyed this new freedom, and they LIKE it. Enough so they don’t want to go back to the day-to-day grind in the office.”

While we may have lost a lot putting our lives and businesses on hold last year, a lot has been gained, too.

“For some, overstimulation and distractions that occur at the office is a real thing after sitting in quiet homes alone during the times of the stay-at-home orders. It is going to take some people a little bit to get back into the multi-tasking and listening out of both ears that is required in the social setting known as the office,” said Hibdon.

As recent as April 5, 2021, it was reported by NBC News that the American Psychological Association found that just under half of working adults feel uneasy about returning to in-person work. Vaccination status did not affect that: 48 percent of those who have already been vaccinated say they feel uncomfortable with in-person interactions.

Hibdon continues, “And if employers think this will just ‘go away,’ I think you may be wrong. About 48 percent of working Americans said they would like to see a hybrid schedule -– where they work both remotely and in-office according to a planned schedule. And 41 percent said this is so important to them that they would even consider a pay cut to be allowed to continue working from their home offices. Employees I’ve spoken with have indicated they are more than prepared to walk away from their positions entirely should they be forced to return to the workplace.”

That last comment should give employers pause. Remember when COVID hit? Your employees were willing to do almost anything to save their jobs. Now, in the “almost all clear” post-pandemic environment, they have changed course and are willing to give up their jobs to keep what they’ve become accustomed to!

Hibdon continues, “When employees were asked to work from home, the transition was confusing and exhausting to many. Now we are seeing the same types of emotions, insecurity, and weariness going back to the office. Couple this with the onset of summer and people anxious to get out and experience life again; vacation requests are hitting at the same time CEOs are looking to ramp up.

“Additionally, it’s all too apparent that during this time, certain social skills have atrophied. Which will make it initially tough for teams and leaders to communicate and have their needs heard.”

What solutions are available?

Employing flexibility and patience from both employers and employees will be important. Asking the right questions at the right time will go a long way. Listen hard. Understanding and empathy should be the goal. The one-size-fits-all plan may not work well for either side. Compromise, creativity, and non-judgmental communication are critical. Finding common ground is essential.

The solution is the knowledge that not every employee feels the same way. And not every employee will be able to easily adapt once more. We need to access a similar toolbox as we did previously.

Employees need to understand the stress employers have and vice versa. Much like a tug-of-war, we may get nowhere when one side tries to pull the other side across the line. There is way too much to lose. Employers need reliable, motivated workers. Workers need jobs that they love. We’re revisiting an age-old problem with a pandemic thrown into the mix!

Think about what we have learned during the pandemic -– I’m talking about the creativity, flexibility, and open-mindedness that occurred during that time.  Now, once again, apply this to the “newest normal.”