Working in the office was the rule until companies and governments encouraged everyone to stay home because of the Covid-19 outbreak. The vaccine is available to everyone over 16 who wants it, and infection rates are down in most areas. Several states have lifted their Covid restrictions altogether.
It's time for some people to go back to the office.
Washingtonian CEO Cathy Merrill argued this in an opinion piece for the Washington Post with her staff striking for the day. Andrew Beaujon, a senior editor at the Washingtonian, tweeted this:
Here's what Merrill got right and what she got wrong.
What she got right.
There are real benefits to working in the office.
Working at home is not for everyone, and business owners do get to choose how they prefer to operate. Mentoring is harder when you don't see people. She's right that feedback can be harder to give in a remote setting. If you're all in the office, it's easy enough to walk by an employee's desk and say, "Hey, the last couple reports were a bit sloppy. Do you have a minute to discuss?" If you have to schedule a time to talk, you likely won't.
When you hire new people--especially entry-level people, it's easier to train, integrate, and them if you have personal contact. A PWC survey found that the least experienced people wanted to be in the office more than experienced workers. But, of course, it does no good to have your least experienced people in the office if there's no one else there to mentor and train them.
Remote Work Isn't Successful for Everyone.
While 71 percent of employees said that remote work has been successful, 29 percent of people think the results are mixed or that it is a failure. That's a huge portion of the population. Not everyone likes working from home, and CEOs have the right to determine what will work for their businesses.
There's no such thing as a three-minute Zoom.
Merrill uses this phrase, and she's right. Not all meetings need to be held or should be held via video conference. While there are many other options, Zoom fatigue is a thing, and a meeting that would take three minutes in someone's cubical can end up dragged out if you meet on Zoom.
Planful CEO Grant Halloran theorizes that Zoom actually makes it too easy to set up a meeting. If you have to get everyone into the same room, it can make it difficult to set up times for meetings, but if you make the process of meetings too easy, you meet more than you should.
This sets up a weird dynamic where remote businesses simultaneously have too many meetings and not enough communication.
What Merrill got wrong.
She doesn't understand employment law.
The most important thing she got wrong was the concept of employees versus contractors. She explained that one of the advantages of being in the office is extra interactions and mentoring and birthday parties. She wrote, "If the employee is rarely around to participate in those extras, management has a strong incentive to change their status to 'contractor.'"
Yikes. Contractors and employees have definitions and while they are often hotly contested, in no case is participating in extras what makes a person an employee. You cannot just change someone's status without following strict legal guidelines.
It's not all or nothing.
The PWC survey found that only 29 percent of employees want to work at home full time. Everyone else wants some sort of hybrid model. You can meet the needs of your new hires, your mentoring program, cut down on Zoom fatigue, and bond as a group a couple of days a week. Allowing employees the flexibility they need would be a much better way to go about this.
Even if Merrill's ultimate goal is 100 percent back in the office, working back in slowly would be a better thing.
You lead by example, not by springing things on employees in The Washington Post.
It is possible that Merrill discussed this op-ed with her staff before publishing, but it's clear her employees were not on board. Do not take your internal conflicts public. It's a bad look.
A better way to encourage people to come back to the office is to do so through your own leadership. Once you've made a successful return to the office, then you write your op-ed about why you came back and why it worked. Doing it in this order is bad for morale.
There are many good reasons to be back in the office, but you can't do it without employee support. Build that first and then go to the public.