How Your Company Approaches Back to Work is How They Approach Everything
In-house HR attorney here. (Disclaimer: none of this is legal advice!). I agree with all of your assessments. The issue is HR and management have never been trained to manage a remote workforce at most companies. It requires skill that these people were never trained to do and it ties back to the other issue you’ve written on lately - that “managers” are usually just high performing contributors. They don’t really know how to manage anyone, but they can fake it well enough when everyone is in the office based on seating arrangements and physical proximity. Ask these people to manage their employees based on work alone? That’s a tall order. I actually had one SVP tell me directly that he wanted all of his team back in the office because “HR doesn’t know how to train managers to manage remotely.” I think this is probably widely true. It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try, but I think a lot of the issue is managers aren’t qualified to manage to begin with, and, to the extent HR has trained them to manage, they have only been trained to manage in person.
I read somewhere last week an analysis that a lot of people weren’t looking for jobs because they had significant savings or their spouse made enough to tide them over for a while. (I think the article was about the continuing lack of workers—which made the article weird on its own because it didn’t include lack of childcare and affordable housing, not to mention the pandemic or really anything that indicated they were looking at anything but a narrow slice of office workers.) It did make me wonder if a lot of companies don’t want to make changes because people will run out of cash and need to accept whatever conditions are offered.
Though JJ’s point below about managers seems pertinent. My spouse works for a big international, and I’m a self-employed freelancer, and we’ve been realizing how important good project managers are. My clients’ project managers tend to be excellent, while the full-time a lot of the ones my spouse’s company hires are less so. (Project managers not direct people managers, but it seems relevant!)
I'm lucky to work for a medium-sized nonprofit that has a woman leader with a young (elementary school age) child; she, like many, was deep in the overwhelm when the pandemic hit and schools closed. So many of our work-from-home policies shifted out of necessity, and called into question existing policies (such as, a maximum on WAH 2-days per week, the policy pre-pandemic--and only certain employees allowed to do that, not all). As the return-to-office date kept being pushed further & further into the future, leadership decided to move to a virtual-first policy; now, nobody has to work in the office if they can't (due to childcare or other reasons), or, just don't want to. Our schedules have become more flexible as well. I went to a four-day/week schedule about a year ago, and love it. I am no less productive (more so, probably!). And I do not miss my previous commute, which meant having to leave before my kids left for school, and often having to stand on an overfull, stinky, slow-moving bus that took 30 minutes to travel the measly 3.5 miles to the office. Nope, not missing that *at all*.
My husband's (soon-to-be-former) company keeps insisting they're bringing his team back (they're account managers, they spend 6+ hours a day on the phone with clients) at some point.
They moved them from decently-spaced cubicles with half-height walls (walls! a divider!) to a smaller, more tightly-packed bullpen situation with no dividers, and only about 3 feet from chair to chair (less with the person behind you).
They had folks come in, voluntarily-but-highly-encouraged, for one day and then a week later announced that 4 people who had been at the office that day had tested positive for COVID.
It's not *the* reason he's leaving, but it absolutely contributed. And, as the subhead states, reallllllly reflects how they handle other things.
One thing I think is going to be interesting is watching companies like the one I just joined - pre-pandemic they were in-office only, but during the pandemic a lot of people moved out of their area permanently but were allowed to stay on, and folks like me joined, who are out of the area and will remain fully remote. They've put out their back-to-office plan, following all of the best practices here -- options to be remote Mon/Fri, starting in mid-January, etc -- but have also made it clear that the office return is really important to the company culture.
I'm left wondering what that's going to be like for those of us who are remote as office culture picks back up. Prior to this, I'd been in an office that was remote from the team I was working on, so even though I was in an office I spent all day on conference lines. It does kind of suck to be the only one calling in to an otherwise in-person meeting -- hard to follow quick mumbled conversations, to see what people are writing on whiteboards, etc. It's also harder to get to know people and feel like part of the team if the rest of the team is together and you're not.
I'm not sure how common the "we started hiring remote during the pandemic" thing is, but I'm left wondering how people in this situation are going to feel a year down the line, and how companies are going to feel about integrating a partially remote workforce into a very office-centric culture.
A friend told me that her workplace was asking for, not an in-person inspection of the home office setup, but a photo of it, for those safety concerns.
What happened next is, people just Google-Image-searched 'home office setup' and sent an appropriate-looking photo.
My office is excelling at bad comms and decision by fiat (although they didn't really pretend that they wanted input). It is not surprisingly, a small non-profit with 8 staff members and no internal HR. We've been a few days a week since Sept 2020(!) because the boss decided it was important to be in the office. Guess who is never in the office? Like literally, I don't think she's been in since July. The rest of us, who have all been there 10+ years, are either waiting it out to retire in a couple of years or starting to look elsewhere. I think we've all just decided that we will come in no more than 1 day/week, if that, and just wait to see if anyone calls us on it. It went from a fairly decent place to work to feeling like we were just nameless cogs. We also downsized office space during the winter and it was handled absolutely terribly. I like my coworkers and the members we serve, but I'm updating my resume and going to get serious about looking.
I audibly gasped when I read the "No Child or Pet Noises Allowed" bit. Is that a real thing that real live human beings have instituted??!?! I'm in Australia (in Melbourne, lockdown capital of the world!), and it's pretty unfathomable to have something like that here, I think. There have 100% been missteps by companies here with the return to the office, but reading this plus people's comments makes me feel incredibly fortunate.
The home-inspection thing is incredibly creepy. What if the worker is a single woman who has experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking and the "inspector" is a man? She has to let him have free range of her house? What if it's a family with kids under the vaccination age? They have to expose them to some rando coming into their house to check things out? It's just gross.
It seems like the right to inspect could easily come back to bite companies in workers comp claims if the didn't inspect. Where as the very long self certification checklist, I've had to sign for two federal agencies covers everything. Making it much easier to argue it's my own fault if I trip on a cord because I swore there were no cords to trip over. None of it is really about privacy. It's all safety/ergonomics. It's probably not protective enough of workers.
My office asked questions about whether the home office space was "safe" - ergonomic and did not have electrical cords strewn about. Since I was sitting in a camp chair, I said Of Course! This all worked fine from June 2020 (when they figured out we needed to get out of the office) until July this year (when they wanted us back). Then they came up with the long contracts, wanting us to have a set schedule every week, ridiculous questions. The things that drove me back into the office - insisting that we keep detailed logs of every client file we touched when home, and that we be reachable by phone at all times when working at home (keep in mind we can be reached by email!). . My most productive times in the past year was when I
This timing is perfect because I saw an ad the other day that reminded me of your posts for something called “ Workhuman.” It showed a woman in labor receiving like “nice messages” from her coworkers and is lauded as a way to make work more “like family,” which always sounds alluring but really is super problematic. I’d love to get your thoughts on it and the ad!
On another note, as a graduate student in higher education, I almost always feel overworked and underpaid; but my department does a great job in terms of flexibility and prioritizing the worker over the work. I can’t say that for campus as a whole, but I generally feel pretty lucky.
Reading these examples makes me so grateful that my company has handled the abrupt shift to working from home so well. When it became obvious that a shelter-in-place mandate was coming, the IT department worked hard to make sure that the customer-facing staff had the necessary technological support they needed to continue having access to our clients. Since then, the company has given us $ allowances for office supplies. We’ve had a couple of employee surveys re:coming back to the office , the latest of which sets our *optional* return to office in Jul 2022 (pushed back from Jan 2022). It’s a bit funny because pre-pandemic, the company was very strict in granting any work from home approvals. But last year we actually had one of our more productive years, so it’s learned that our physical presence isn’t necessary (for the most part) to achieve our work goals.
Found this fascinating as a fresh grad, specifically eager to pick the right place to work in. I've found far more things to question and observe employers about after reading this. I'm curious and would love to know why you think Microsoft's implementation isn't a good idea either? (Not a caregiver, but a champion of the equality of workspaces). Also, as someone who interned at one of those places that started monitoring cursor movements when they switched to WFH -- let me just say, yikes. I loved the office prior to that, but it exposed a lot of cracks when they had to adjust to post-pandemic working.
I wonder if this post was written from home. I found no less than four grammatical errors. Maybe the bosses DO need to supervise how employees work?