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Op-Ed: Employers pushing for a return to the office – Back to Fantasyland

You don’t get a second shot at getting this right.  

How to engage employees in the workplace? Remote working is on the rise. — Image: © Tim Sandle
How to engage employees in the workplace? Remote working is on the rise. — Image: © Tim Sandle

According to KPMG, employers want everyone back in the office. This is an old argument with apparently few new ideas. The 1950s are all too clearly still rattling around in this logic. The fact that types of work and length of employment have changed and will continue to change drastically apparently isn’t under consideration.

Employers refer to “social connection, building relationships, coming together” like some sort of magic mantra as the reason for office work. That is utter proven inexcusable garbage.

I spent years working in the employment sector, including as a moderator for contentious users. The more likely scenario is:

Social clashes.

Harsh, aggressive managers.

Toxic relationships becoming increasingly toxic over time.

Growing apart as a result of the above with constant stress for years.

Complaints about arbitrary and hostile middle managers are normal.

Meetings to the extent that managers were always absent.

Hostile, combative meetings.

Nitpicking sessions with staff.

Managers unable or unwilling to resolve disputes.

Chronic nepotism.

Unfairness in the workplace.

Appalling wages, particularly in the US.

Wages also dovetail into cost-of-living situations like rent, health, food, etc.

Constant suing of employers for workplace issues.  

These issues were and are common across all sectors. It’s hard to imagine that all these issues have gone away.

Job losses, summary firings, and large-scale redundancies don’t help. These never-ending slash-and-burn workforce cuts are now expected. With AI coming, the expectation is that the workplace will be more unstable than ever.

It’s hard to define exactly what level of imbecilic naivete is required to seriously believe the old-style workplace is even viable.

Working from home is a self-defense option. You save money by not commuting. You can earn extra money on multiple income streams. You can organize your work more efficiently simply by not commuting, which adds hours to your workday. You can therefore be far more productive.

(That income scenario, ironically, is what makes workers from home more reliable. They’re not going to jeopardize any income stream if they can help it. They don’t just walk out.)

Let’s keep this basic. Employers save a lot of money with any work-from-home option. That’s because they don’t need to operate a huge, expensive, workplace. They don’t have to pay as much insurance. They don’t have to spend money on 24/7 energy requirements or any other infrastructure on site. With online work, they don’t even have to pay for most of the communications.  

Above all – What does it matter where the work is done? As long as it’s done properly, what difference does it make? In many industries, the work is done by subcontractors anyway, regardless of who’s in the workplace.

It looks to me like management science hasn’t kept up. Business expenses do matter a lot. Why spend a fortune for the sake of an “office doll’s house” you don’t even need? Why force people to come in to work to do something they could do on their phones?

There is an “initiative” to pay people more for coming to work onsite. I’ll believe it when I see it. How much? Given the cost of commuting alone, will that be covered? I do not believe management employment culture has changed from reptile to mammal.  

The Great Resignation was a prelude to the future. People simply didn’t want to be in the workplace, for whatever reasons. Employer credibility is not exactly stellar. When AI comes in, staff will reconsider their options fast. With working from home, they have options. In the workplace, they have none.

You don’t get a second shot at getting this right.  


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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