A good example of this is a recent editorial written by the CEO of a magazine in Washington, DC, which suggested that workers could lose advantages like healthcare if they insist on continuing to work remotely as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes. the staff responded by refusing to post for a day.
While the CEO later apologized, she’s not the only one who seems to be spoiling the transition to the office after more than a year in which tens of millions of employees have been forced to work from home. A recent survey of full-time business or government employees found that two-thirds say their employers are have not communicated a post-pandemic office strategy or did so only vaguely.
Like Workforce scholars, we are interested in knowing how workers are handling this situation. Our recent research has found that this inability to communicate clearly harms morale, culture, and retention.
Workers are moving
We began investigating the pandemic experiences of workers in July 2020 as shelter orders on site closed offices and remote working were common. Back then, we wanted to know how workers were using their newfound freedom to potentially work from virtually anywhere.
We analyzed a set of data that a business and technology newsletter obtained by polling its 585,000 active readers. They were asked if they plan to move in the next six months and share their story on why, where and to.
Upon review, we had just under 3,000 responses, including 1,361 people who were considering or had recently moved. We systematically coded these responses to understand their motivations and, depending on the distances traveled, the degree of ongoing remote work policy they would likely need.
We found that one segment of these employees would need a full remote work agreement based on distance traveled from their desk, and another segment would face a longer commute. Throughout this, there was the explicit or implicit expectation of some degree of continued remote work among many workers who moved during the pandemic.
In other words, many of these workers assumed – or promised – that they could continue to work remotely at least part of the time after the pandemic was over. Or they seemed ready to quit if their employer didn’t oblige them.
One of the authors explains the research.
We wanted to see how those expectations were met as the pandemic began to end in March 2021, so we searched online communities on Reddit to see what workers were saying. A forum has proved particularly useful. A member asked, “Has your employer ever made remote working permanent or is it still in the air?” And then shared his own experience. This post generated 101 responses with a fair amount of detail about what their respective companies were doing. .
While this qualitative data is only a small sample that is not necessarily representative of the American population as a whole, these publications have given us a better understanding of how workers feel, which a simple statistic cannot. to supply.
We have found a disconnect between workers and management that starts with but goes beyond the issue of remote working policy itself. Overall, we found three recurring themes in these anonymous posts.
1. Broken telework promises
Others have also found that people are taking advantage of remote work linked to the pandemic to relocate to a city far enough away to require part or full-time remote work after people return to the office.
A recent survey from consulting firm PwC found that nearly a quarter of workers were considering or planning to relocate more than 50 miles from one of their employer’s main offices. The survey also found that 12% have already taken such a step during the pandemic without finding a new job.
Our initial findings suggested that some workers would quit their current jobs rather than quit their new location if their employer required it, and we saw that started happening in March.
A worker planned to move from Phoenix to Tulsa with her fiance to get larger housing at cheaper rent after her business moved away. She then had to quit her job for the move, even though “they told me they would allow me to work from home, then told me they didn’t care.”
Another worker said the promise to work remotely was only implied, but he still had hope when leaders “puffed us up for months saying that we would probably be able to keep working at home. home and come in occasionally ”, then changed their minds and demanded that employees return to the office once vaccinated.
2. Confused remote working policies
Another constant refrain we read in worker reviews was disappointment with their company’s remote work policy – or lack thereof.
Whether workers said they were staying away for now, returning to the office, or still weren’t sure, we found that almost a quarter of people in our sample said their leaders did not give them meaningful explanations of what motivated the policy. Worse yet, the explanations seemed confusing or insulting at times.
One worker complained that the manager “wanted butt in the seats because we couldn’t be trusted to [work from home] even if we had been doing it since last March ”, adding:“ I am giving my notice on Monday. ”
Another, whose company published a two-week deadline for everyone to return to the office, complained, “Our management felt that people were not as productive at home. As a company, we achieved most of our goals for the year. … That does not make any sense.”
After a long period of office closures, it stands to reason that workers would need time to readjust to office life, a point expressed in recent poll results. Employers who quickly flip the switch on recalling workers and do so with poor justification risk appearing deaf.
This suggests a lack of confidence in productivity at a time when many workers say they are trying harder than ever and be strained by the increased digital intensity of their work – that is, the growing number of online meetings and chats.
And even when companies said they would not demand a return to the office, workers still blamed them for their motives, which many employees described as financially motivated.
“We are becoming hybrids,” wrote one worker. “Personally, I don’t think the company does it for us.… I think they realized how effective they are and how much they save.”
Only a small minority of workers in our sample said their company asked them what employees actually expected from a future remote working policy. Since leaders are rightly concerned about corporate culture, we believe they are missing a key opportunity to engage with workers on the issue and to show that their political justifications are not just about dollars and cents.
3. “BS” corporate culture
A corporate culture is essentially its values and beliefs shared among its members. It’s harder to foster when everyone is working remotely.
This is probably why corporate human resources managers rank maintain organizational culture as a top workforce priority for 2021.
But many of the forum posts we looked at suggested that employers ‘efforts to do this during the pandemic by hosting team outings and other meetings were in fact pushing back workers, and that this kind of’ culture building Was not welcome.
One worker’s company “had everyone come to the office for an al fresco lunch a week ago,” according to a report, adding: “Idiots.”
Surveys have revealed that what workers expect most from management, on the issue of corporate culture, are more remote working resources, updated policies on flexibility and more communication from leaders.
As another worker put it, “I can tell you that most people really don’t do two flips on ‘corporate culture’ and think it’s BS.”
Kimberly Merriman, Professor of Management, Manning School of Business, University of Massachusetts Lowell; David Greenway, PhD student in leadership / organization studies, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Tamara Montag-Smit, assistant professor of commerce, University of Massachusetts Lowell
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