Lots of people all too willing to pronounce Covid-inspired increase in remote work means offices are dead. We’re all going to be working remotely now nearly all the time now, or at least have the option to do so, right?
Indeed, it’s possible, or even likely, that my employer—and yours—could help their workers and the bottom line, simply by allowing us to work from home or come in on a hybrid plan. Remote, flexible employment might be a win for everyone.
But actually, it isn’t. A rational assessment of your time and productivity was never quite at issue, and I think it never will be. Companies have been pulling employees back to work in person irrespective of anyone’s well-being or efficiency. That’s because return-to-office plans are not concerned, in any fundamental way, with workers and their plight or preferences. Rather they serve as affirmations of a superseding value—one that spans every industry of knowledge work. If your boss is nudging you to come back to your cubicle, the policy has less to do with one specific firm than with the whole firmament of office life: the Office, as an institution. The Office must endure! To the office we must go.
This should be obvious, but somehow it is not: The existence of an office is the central premise of office work, and nothing—not even a pandemic—will make it go away.
This is similar to what I have been saying for some time. Many people will be working remotely than in the past, but offices–and the desirability and possible necessity for physical presence in the workplace–are most likely not going to disappear anytime soon, if ever. Most of those who believe otherwise are probably engaged in wishful thinking.
One further point:
At a minimum, those willing to return to work in the office without having to be dragged into doing so will have a competitive advantage over less flexible workers.