The call to return to the office is being heard loud and clear — and some organizations are louder than others. Recently, James P. Gorman, the CEO at Morgan Stanley, stated: “If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office. And we want you in the office.”
Statistics show that plans to get back to the office full-time are mainly driven by executive leaders — without considering their employees’ views. According to a recent PwC survey, 68% of executives feel that employees need to be in the office at least three days per week to maintain a strong company culture. However, the same survey revealed that the shift to remote work was successful in 83% of businesses.
One of the most significant benefits of working from home is related to parenthood and family affairs — 79% of employees surveyed by PwC say they are able to manage family matters more successfully. Furthermore, studies have debunked the myth that employees with outside priorities are more distracted. In fact, outside responsibilities and commitments can actually make them more focused and absorbed in their work.
On the subject of returning to the office, I believe that businesses can’t afford to treat employees with the same disrespect that many women (and men) face when returning to work after parental leave — something I experienced firsthand.
My Painful Experience Returning To Work
My story isn’t new or groundbreaking. Many who return from parental leave experience heightened expectations and stress. In 2017, I was working as a remote sales representative for a Fortune 500 company. My work intensity increased as I neared the beginning of my maternity leave, and when I left the office, I was burned-out.
Upon my return to the office after 12 months of maternity leave, my employer announced that my role was moved from four days a week to five days a week, and I had no say in the matter.
The representative who had replaced me during my absence was located in a different geographic area and had an entirely different proximity of territory. The role had been changed to fit his profile, not mine, and my sales territory size had almost tripled.
There were days where I was driving up to 14 hours, covering an inherited sales territory that didn’t make sense for me, only to come home to a baby who refused to sleep.
A Tale All Too Familiar: My Employer Lacked Empathy
I was eager to find a solution to improve my working conditions and deliver better results for my team.
I had numerous meetings with my direct manager and the director above him to explain my situation. I built a business case to explain why I was requesting to remain at four days a week, why a modest hotel budget made sense to avoid the unnecessary commute, how it would actually improve my sales results and why the cadence of sales visits was unsustainable for a new mother.
Unfortunately, my requests fell on deaf ears. The pace was unsustainable, and I quit my job eight months after returning to work.
Employer flexibility was clearly a widespread issue pre-Covid-19, as my own experience shows. But instead of isolated experiences, millions of “returning” employees will face this challenge all at once.
The “New Normal” Is Here To Stay
Over the past 16-plus months, our working and personal environments, circumstances and expectations have changed drastically. Job satisfaction at work hit a 20-year high during the pandemic. A survey by Upwork predicts that by 2028, 73% of all departments will have remote workers. As an employer, it’s risky to presume that what has worked before will work in the future.
Despite the corporate push to go “back to normal,” wise employers will ensure their employees have a say in their schedule. The hybrid work environment will be the new normal.
Flexibility Does Not Equal Less Commitment
Unfortunately, the executive level often perceives requests for flexibility as a sign of weakened commitment to the company. For decades, remote workers have represented only a small part of most Fortune 500 companies’ workforce. This mindset has historically proven to compromise the advancement of women leaders to senior leadership roles. From my firsthand experience in one of those roles, I can confirm that remote workers were often treated as inferior to those in the office.
Post-pandemic, leaders must consider their employees’ circumstances. Employees should have a say in how many days a week/month they can come into the office.
With all of the available technology and established practices in place, mandating that an employee must attend a meeting in person is no longer necessary.
Call To Action
One of the biggest holdbacks of remote work is trust. Managers fear lack of control and decreased productivity based solely on not trusting their employees. In fact, 77% of those who work remotely at least a few times per month do 30% more work in less time, according to a survey by ConnectSolutions.
I urge employers to pay attention to countless statistics that prove the benefits of remote or hybrid work models:
• Companies that allow remote work can see an average increase of $2,000 in profit per remote worker.
• 64% of recruiters say that being able to pitch a work-from-home policy helps them find high-quality talent.
• 74% of workers say that having a remote job would make them less likely to leave a company.
Whether employees are returning to work after a furlough, a child care break or a modified work schedule due to the pandemic, organizations need to support these employees by offering a collaborative and individualized approach to their work schedules.