The move to teleworking has accelerated, thanks to an array of remote technologies with a boost from COVID-19
By Dan Booth
In mid-June, financial services giant Goldman Sachs made headlines by requiring almost all its employees in its Manhattan global headquarters to report to the office, marking the historic end of the bank’s work-from-home era that began with New York City’s COVID-19 lockdown more than a year ago.
Elsewhere according to reports from Bloomberg, other Wall Street financial giants are taking a more measured approach; Citigroup says it won’t recall more of its staff to its Manhattan offices until July, and most workers in the longer term are being given the option of adopting a hybrid schedule between home and the office. On the other hand, JPMorgan Chase has already told all its US employees to be prepared for a return early in July, while Bank of America Corp. senior managers are already trickling back into their offices, but a more general restart is not expected until fall.
The return to Goldman’s office was characterized by high-fives and hugs, Bloomberg reports, fueled by free food in the cafeteria and conversation over company-provided coffee. Still, anxiety abounds as returning workers worry about such diverse concerns as summer child care and indoor air quality. It’s part of a stutter-step recovery scenario being played out across the country, as COVID-19 concerns get overtaken by questions about what any recovery might look like.
The seeds of upheaval in the workplace were actually being sown long before SARS-CoV-2 started raging across the globe, by employees seeking something the HR types dubbed ‘work-life balance.’ But the exigencies of the pandemic and the forced march toward remote technologies created a broader view of what can be considered the right way to structure a work environment.
Here to Stay Now, as the florescent lights get switched back on and the never-empty breakroom coffee pots begin to perk once again, the question seems to be, not whether flexible schedules and remote working will be a permanent part of the landscape, but determining the right mix of work-from-home versus time-in-office.
Surprisingly, recent studies are finding that the nature of that mix may be trending gradually toward a more hybrid model. According to the 2021 Technologist Sentiment Report, less than a third (29 percent) of the technology workers surveyed want to continue to work remotely five days a week; that’s a significant decline from the same survey in fourth quarter of 2020, when that number was more than two in five (41 percent).
Not so surprisingly, the study released by Dice, a career site that specializes in the job market for technologists, found that full-time back in the office was the least popular option, favored by fewer than one in five (17 percent). Instead, the technology employees are showing a marked preference for a hybrid work model, rather than being either full-time work-from-home or full-time in-the-office. Three days a week seems still to be the sweet spot for working remote, with that preference chosen by nearly a quarter (24 percent) of respondents. But interestingly, going remote one or two days a week was found to be most desirable by over a third (35 percent) of those surveyed.
"While many technologists would still prefer to work 100 percent remotely, there is an equal desire for a hybrid approach, and we've actually seen fewer remote days per week become more desirable over the past year," says Art Zeile, CEO of Dice, a DHI Group brand.
Everybody’s Doin’ It No matter how the mix of work days plays out, this new flexible, technology-driven shift change is likely to be coming soon to a work environment near you. Another poll, this one of 340 Canadian organizations, found that prior to the pandemic, only a quarter (26 percent) of organizations had adopted a formal telework policy. However today, more than nine in 10 (91 percent) say they have adopted such a policy or plan to do so.
The survey by Canadian actuarial services provider Normandin Beaudry found almost half the organizations (47 percent) that already have a telework policy have established or will establish a maximum number of remote working days per week. The majority are planning for a maximum of two or three days of telework per week, a number that tracks closely with employee preferences expressed in the Dice survey. Fewer than one in five (17 percent) of organizations with a telework policy say they will allow employees to work from home as many days per week as they want.
One facet that appears to be emerging as the pandemic-induced lockdowns ease and work-life comes back in balance: There appears to be increasing enthusiasm for returning to the office on the part of a growing number of employees. Not everyone is totally gung-ho about heading back to their desks, and most workers have come to appreciate the flexibility remote working technology affords them.
Still the Dice survey found over half (51 percent) of respondents said that remote work made it harder to develop and maintain working relationships with colleagues. And fully a quarter of those asked (24 percent) feel their work-life balance is worse than pre-pandemic due to increased demands, workforce shortages, no set boundaries between home and work.