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Why It's Time to Challenge the Remote Work Comfort Zone

Updated: Sep 29, 2023


A father working from home

As we approach October 2023, the echoes of the pandemic's remote work revolution still resonate in workplaces worldwide. The benefits of working from home (WFH) have been undeniable to employers and employees. Many businesses are luring new employees with a promise of staying full remote or remote-first, while those that want their people to return face criticism for being out of touch with the evolving work landscape en employees needs. Yet I argue that full remote has more drawbacks for employees and we should demand the right to WFO from employers.

Why we think WFH is great

Let me first acknowledging the many advantages of working from home.

remote worker's revolution

The remote worker's revolution

It's unsurprising that many employees refuse to return to the office. Years of mandatory WFH proved the benefits of this newly acquired freedom. Never again should we return to the dreadful Before Times! Of course people leave those backward employers that think they can force people back. We are now going through a time of struggle between the traditionalist employers and those that embrace change in the modern world. And given the current shortage of labor, employees are bound to win.


Yet...

Do you remember returning to the office for the first time? I remember experiencing all the reasons to WFH: the commute, the distractions, the feeling that I got a lot less done in a day than I would have gotten done home. But I also remember suddenly seeing these things from a different perspective. The commute gave me an opportunity to read the news, the 'distracting' conversations with colleagues contributed to a better collaboration atmosphere during work, and I overheard others talk about projects that I knew a bit about (and could not have shared with them if we were all remote). Most of all, it was simply nice to be with other people that I had built a (remote) bond with. Since then, I've started to value the office far more. It's more about collaboration with colleagues in person, than it is about the office itself. Working from home, even

A busy office

when in meetings most of the day, just is not as much fun as working in an office with real people. I want to work in an office with other people there.


I dug into this and it turns out that I am not alone in this. Many of the advantages that we experienced 3 years ago, have watered down, turned out to be incorrect or don't weigh up against the disadvantages. Here's why it is good for employees to go back to the office:



11 reasons why Employees should want to go back to the office


1. Mental health

Humans are inherently social. As a species we're meant to be together. A videocall does not make up for the absense of humans in your daily life. Despite the effort employers have put into remote mental health, e.g. by paying for meditation apps, depression and lonelyness are high among remote workers.

People spend a third of life working, do they want to spend it behind a screen to earn a paycheck, or do they want to collaborate, laugh, celebrate, bond, ... basically be part of a social group and enjoy the time together?


2. Quality meetings

While remote meetings are sometimes better planned and structured and usually better time-kept, the quality of in-person meetings is far higher. You can pick up on the non-verbal clues, you can better see everyone in the room, you don't have the constant awkwardness of unintended interruptions.


Colleagues having coffee

3. Informal collaboration

Perhaps more unexpectedly, the coffee corner chats are more valuable than they are distracting. Many people choose to express their honest opinion in a less formal setting like the water cooler, hallway, or during a shared lunch. The 'distracting' conversations help generate new ideas, spread knowledge, and support coaching and learning opportunities.


4. Separate work from personal life

While lack of commute time and the ability to finish home task during work hours make it seem like we have a better work-life balance at home, in many ways things have actually gotten worse. Many employees have difficulty disconnecting from work and continue to feel the pressure to deliver all day and in weekends. This can lead to more mental health issues. Vice versa, many home workers have difficulty really focussing on their work because they are in their home environment and see all the chores to do and opportunities to get distracted. The commute, therefore, turns out to be a great tool to switch between work life and personal life.


5. Connect to company culture

Company culture is fostered by employees coming together, collaborating, celebrating successes and collectively learning from mistakes. When employees identify with a company's values they're more likely to engage with and enjoy their work. A strong company culture makes worklife better and delivers better results. Working remotely negatively affects the development of company culture. Fully remote companies have trouble even getting employees to join the good stuff like company parties, because employees feel like strangers to each other.


Remote celebration

6. Celebrate success

In a remote world, when an employee has something great, like finishing a big project successfully, delivering massive cost savings, or doubling sales, colleagues do their best to celebrate and recognize that success...

With a👍 and 🎉 in chat. That's not very motivating in my opinion. These successes should be properly presented and followed by a beer, champagne or dinner with everyone in the same room?


7. Company awareness

Cross-domain collaboration is killed with remote work. In an office, employees will talk to people they don't have a direct working relationship with. Engineers meet accountants, customer care agents meet marketeers, etcetera. This helps to spread information around the office, people will pulled out of their team bubble and become more aware of what is going on in the company.


8. Workspace setup

Many WFH employees work crouched over their laptop at the dinner table, even if their employer provides and mandates a proper setup. Beware of lasting workplace injuries. People often only start noticing these back, neck, and wrist injuries when it's too late. Offices offer healthier setups, like sit-stand desks, large monitors at a healthy height, and adjustable seats.


9. Better learning and coaching opportunities

Studies show that office employees spend more time in formal training and learning than remote employees. Besides the formal training, the informal learning and coaching that happens subcontiously or ad hoc is better stimulated in an office. People subcontiously learn from observing each other, something that's practically impossible at home.


10. Profile building

To grow in a company, an employee needs to build trust with a large group of people, not just their own team and boss. They need to build profile. That trust is difficult to build when people don't meet in person. Ambitious employees that want to show off their achievements, observe and learn from colleagues, and give and get credit, will benefit from an office with their colleagues there.


11. Environmental impact

Despite what I wrote about a smaller carbon footprint earlier in on this page, it turns out that WFH is actually worst. The CO2 drop that we saw early in the pandemic was due to full lockdown and a drop of cross-border transport globally. Since that is back to normal, we're also emitting pre-pandemic levels of carbon. If you're working form home then you're also using energy to manage your house's climate and to keep it well lit. It's better to share a building with colleagues than to each have our own, privately climate controlled place.


Let's celebrate the return to office

Given the above, I don't intend to return to a fully remote or remote-first workplace again. I celebrate the Dutch senate's recent vote against the right to WFH. I want to have a bond with the people that I work with. I want to celebrate successes together. And I don't believe that I'm alone in this.

You're not convinced? Here's further reading material:

But how?

80% of bosses say they regret earlier return-to-office plans. A return to office must be done in the right way. The employer needs to invest to make sure employees really get the benefits of the office.

  • Invest in good workplace setups

  • Loose the massive open office setting, people need just a bit of privacy or quiet.

  • Have regular office celebrations such as Friday drinks

  • Don't go for fully remote, there's WFH advantages that you still want to benefit from.

  • Half measures will lead to failure, so everyone should be on board from the start and spend at least 4 days a week in the office

(perhpas I'll elaborate on the 'how' in another post :) )


What do you think?

Is this all nonsense? Or am I reading your mind? I want to learn from your opinion, so share it in the comments!

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