The debate between employees and company owners has come to a cross road. While the argument that employees prefer to work from home and company owners believe productivity and performance has dropped. This has sparked a mass move toward getting everyone back into the office.

The Rollback Has Been Inevitable

Economists have been keeping a close eye on the situation. For many, this appears to have been inevitable from the beginning, though many were hopeful that the switch to remote work would be more or less permanent.

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One economic blogger, Kevin Drum, goes even further in his assessments. Drum has been following along with anti-remote literature, and where many are still hoping that remote work is here to stay, Drum has a prediction that the work-from-home revolution simply does not exist.

There are Legitimate Reasons

According to Drum, there are a couple of reasons for this, particularly in tech companies where most work could theoretically be remote. Of course, will all things, there are exceptions to blanket statements, but Drum has evidence to back up his claims.

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Drum points to four reasons that work-from-home policies are being slowly rolled back. They have to do, unsurprisingly, with worker productivity, though maybe not for the reasons that you might think.

New Workers Need Help

The first reason that Drum posits is the fact that remote work is bad for junior employees and new hires. While this may seem antithetical, he backs it up with some statistics. In a blog post, Drum explained that remote work is great for senior workers, because they already know how to do the job. They don’t need somebody to hold their hand and make sure that they’re doing everything correctly.

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In comparison, newer workers often need more “hand holding” in order to learn their job properly, and research shows that an in-person environment is the place for that sort of hand-on instruction. Even Gen Z workers, who are aggressively against working in office, acknowledge the benefits of being trained in person.

New Employees Do Better With Better Training

Tech companies have supported this reasoning vehemently. The CEO of Salesforce stated in an interview that at Salesforce, new employees do empirically better if they are physically in the office being trained and onboarded, able to ask questions as they arise.

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This positive experience could be a boon for in-office employers, and could also hurt companies. A recent survey revealed that up to 80% of new hires will quit a company if they have a poor hiring and onboarding experience, making it imperative for the first few months at a company to be a good experience for new employees.

Hybrid Work Can Cause Major Problems

Drum’s second theory is that remote work can cause more problems that in person work, though he admits that that may be due to difficulty in the hybrid model. Many companies have tried to move to a hybrid work type of environment, allowing some workers to work from home and some in the office.

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Some companies have tried to make this transition by only requiring employees to come into the office one or two days out of the week, and allowing them to work from home the rest of the time. This is where Drum sees much of the problems with hybrid work cropping up.

Policies Need to be Clearer

The problem with these sorts of policies is that they’re often unclear about the expectations of in-office work. There’s no clarification as to dates or times, and so it can lead to an uneven environment where some workers are in the office on some days, but not other days when their bosses are in.

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Particularly in companies where coordinated teamwork is an important part of production, this can be both frustrating and detrimental to the overall output of the company. If employees don’t know that they need to be in office on Fridays for a meeting, then the flexibility that remote work allows is a bit of a moot point.

Remote Workers … Work Less

Drum’s third reasoning behind the return to the office is a statistic that seems a little contradictory when compared to anecdotal evidence. According to a federal report, remote workers are productive, on average, 3.5 hours less per week than their in-office colleagues.

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Of course, this is antithetical to what many remote workers say. Many claim to be more productive when they work from home. Some say the lack of a commute is the reason, and some say that the comfort of being in their own home allows them to focus more deeply and get more done.

A Claim Supported by Statistics

The data doesn’t support the anecdotal evidence, though. A survey done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in October of 2022 revealed that remote workers decreased their time spent working when they were remote, and increased their time for leisure activities such as sleeping.

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This is just one survey, and some data suggests that cutting out commute time does add to the number of productive hours that workers have per day. Still, it doesn’t seem to make up for what appears to be a significant labor gap between remote workers and their in-person counterparts.

Productivity Plummets for Remote Workers

The final claim that Drum makes in favor of in-office work is anecdotal, but does have some significant emotional impacts. According to reports from employers – not national statistics, simply what they have observed – on days when the entire office works remotely, productivity for the office plunges.

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One CEO of an HR tech firm provided some evidence for this statement in an interview done with the Wall Street Journal. He claimed that on days when his team all worked remotely, the number of new subscribers on their website plunged a stunning 30% from days when they worked in office.

Workers Disagree

Of course, these claims are refuted by workers vehemently. Pro-remote workers – particularly parents and caregivers – claim that working from home allows them to have a better work-life balance, and that the flexibility of their working hours allows them to get more done, not less.

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There is some data to back up the claim that remote work damages productivity, though. Economic statistics since the pandemic have noted a decline in productivity across five straight quarters, though that can’t necessarily be completely blamed on remote working conditions.

Remote Workers Show Higher Productivity Scores

Likewise, there is some evidence for remote workers who claim that they are more productive. An October 2022 survey done by Future Forum revealed that for workers who had full schedule flexibility, their productivity scores ranked 29% higher than their in-person counterparts.

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The benefit was even seen for workers with a hybrid schedule, though the number wasn’t as drastic. For workers with a hybrid work schedule, they saw a 4% increase in their productivity scores compared to their in-person counterparts, which is a small number but still not nothing.

Workers Don’t Have a Choice, Not Really

Despite all of this, ultimately the work schedule of its employees are up to the employers themselves, and the pattern is clear that many companies are moving back to an in-person structure. Employees have more collective bargaining power now than they did a few years ago and can always seek work somewhere else, but it isn’t clear that they’ll find remote work elsewhere.

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While many workers may grumble at this, the fact of the matter is that workers need employees, and Americans need jobs. It might not be ideal and there are always other factors that should be taken into account, but for better or worse, in-office work isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.