Want to lose your best employees? Make them return to the office.

“I should work somewhere that doesn’t make me commute five hours each week.” thinks this man. Photo by Ono Kosuki from Pexels

Since mid-March 2020, many office workers have been working from home. It was a big adjustment for everyone — figuring out logistics, IT issues, communication issues, setting up workspaces at home.

In the early stages it was chaos — people working from their beds, webcams out of stock everywhere, Zoom meetings getting porn bombed. But we worked through it. It’s pretty amazing to think about the scope of changes that were made in less than one year.

In fact, some studies show working from home has boosted productivity slightly.

What excites me is that remote work has been successful even during a pandemic. If that can work, how much better could it be post-pandemic? As I’ve written about, the combination of remote work plus in-person social gatherings seems like a great combination.

The water cooler is calling

So why, when we’re on the cusp of an even better work from home experience, are so many companies looking to go back to the office? I’m sure the reasons differ, but they typically include “promote a good culture,” and “good communication.”

The unspoken reasons probably include “I don’t really trust my employees, and since I can’t put a baby monitor in their home office I’ll do the next best thing and force them to work where I can see them.”

Here’s the thing, some of those benefits sound nice — everyone loves watercooler chat, gossip, getting out of the house, etc. But what many companies are not considering is the cost — to employees — to obtain those somewhat nebulous benefits.

Water cooler chat is great, but how many hours per week would you spend commuting to get it? Even a relatively short commute to work means roughly 5 hours per week commuting, and for many it could be 10 hours or more per week. When you add on top of that the time you’ll have to spend dressing yourself from the waist down, the value proposition of going into the office falls far short.

We don’t yet fully understand the benefits of remote work

When you realize employees are, you know, actual people with families and hobbies and lives, it becomes clear that even talking about “commuting time” doesn’t fully capture the opportunity cost of going into the office.

Working from home is an enormous benefit to families — and not just in terms of short-term time and money savings — but in the long term. Parents at home more means more home-cooked meals, which are healthier. More time to help children with homework, more time to read to young children. There are real, significant societal benefits that working from home provides, and I’m sorry, it just seems idiotic to throw that out “to promote a good culture at work.”

A year or two from now, studies will be coming out detailing the health, educational, and environmental benefits of remote work, and it’s going to look really silly to try to argue that office fun and “face to face” meetings can even compare.

Good employees are already quitting

And that brings us to what is currently happening. Lately I’ve been interviewing candidates for an open web developer position at MakeStickers. A common reason why people are looking to switch companies? They’re being asked to come back to the office.

Remote work is now expected just like health insurance and a 401K. We all know what will happen to companies that don’t offer insurance or a 401K — they will not attract or keep talented people. And that’s exactly what is already happening with companies who are trying to force their employees to return to the office.

Working from home has now been proven as a concept — people have done the work and made the adjustments needed for it to be viable, and companies that don’t embrace this fact will be left behind. And to that I say, good.

Managers — for the love of God don’t make your employees come back into the office.

Employees — you have all the power now. Many companies do offer remote work. It’s a big country (and world!). Tell your manager where he can put his water cooler, and work for a company that isn’t going to ask you and your family to pay a huge price for little to no benefit to the company.

Educational Psychology Ph.D., business analytics nerd, computer scientist, President @MakeStickers

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