Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work and hybrid work have encroached their way into normalcy. Now that many people have gotten used to this arrangement, with some of those people thriving in it, it’s unlikely that remote or hybrid work will ever go away.
But remote work is starting to lose momentum.
Why is this the case?
The End of the Pandemic
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies worked fervently to develop new policies and transition to a fully remote environment to maintain public health and comply with regulations and recommendations from authorities.
There were certainly people working from home long before the pandemic, and working from home was on an upward trajectory before this virus began to spread. The dawn of the pandemic was a flashpoint that sparked millions of businesses and individuals to adopt a policy they may not have been ready for. It’s no surprise that the end of the pandemic would inspire them to revert to old ways.
There are a couple of complicating factors here. First, what day did the pandemic end? Most of us witnessed a slow and ambiguous transition from borderline apocalyptic conditions to a return to everyday life – and this unfolded over the course of a couple of years. With no official end date and lingering pandemic uncertainty, many organizations are only now feeling comfortable reverting back to office work.
Second, many companies handled the transition to working remotely in a sloppy and improvised fashion. They pretty much had to. Some tech startups were able to plan a fully functional, remote business from the ground up, but most businesses simply took work in the office and tried to shoehorn it into a work-from-home model. Unfortunately, this sloppy and improvised approach probably led to inferior remote work results, prompting leaders to assume that remote work was the root cause of the problem. Accordingly, sentiments toward working from home have shifted.
The Complicated Question of Productivity
Does working from home make you more productive?
It’s a complicated question. In the mid-2010s, we saw a slew of new scientific studies that suggested working from home increased productivity, but even those were questioned; was it working from home that made people more productive, or were people trying extra hard to prove that working from home was a benefit worth retaining?
In reality, the simple answer is that working from home makes some people more productive and some people less productive. There are too many variables, including contradictory ones, to come up with a concise and universal explanation.
The nature of your workspace can make a big impact on your productivity and mindset. Some people even chose to work outside, sprucing up the outdoor setup with a full outdoor kitchen and a set of comfy patio furniture. Some people upgraded a room in their house to serve as a fully functional and isolated office. These spaces facilitate higher productivity. But other people simply chose to work on the couch, or at the dining room table, and some people barely had enough living space to work comfortably. These options aren’t conducive to long-term productivity.
Typically, working from home means having more personal autonomy. You may have more scheduling flexibility, and you’ll certainly have more leniency with how you work. For some people, this is a godsend, enabling them to tap into their true potential. For others, freedom is a double-edged sword; they may find it harder to focus or stay on task when left to their own decisions.
Isolation from distraction.
Are there more or fewer distractions when you work from home? It depends. Some remote workers were able to create an environment where they were completely free from distraction, isolated from both coworkers and family members. But for others, working from home increased the number of distractions preventing them from working productively. Loud children playing, access to the TV, and noisy traffic are just a few examples. It’s also worth noting that some distractions can be valuable; having access to a break room or participating in conversations with coworkers can be a meaningful opportunity to destress and decompress.
Access to resources.
It’s hard to make the argument that an average person has access to more resources in a remote work environment than they do in a traditional office environment. With access to coworkers, better technology, and more support, most people thrive in a traditional environment over a remote one. But some remote workers were able to afford (or were granted) an environment that could at least come close to what they had previously.
Digital collaboration tools.
Do digital collaboration tools make us more productive or less productive? Again, it all depends. Some people take to these tools better than others, and some tools are strictly better than others. Project management platforms, shared document editors, and similar tools enhance our capabilities – but they’re rarely a complete substitute for traditional forms of collaboration.
Virtual Meeting Fatigue
Remote work motivated the development of novel technological innovations, including sophisticated video chatting tools that turned virtual meetings into the “new normal.” Virtual meetings are often better than not meeting at all, but they pale in comparison to in-person meetings. Between technological hiccups, awkward interruptions, audio issues, and lessened effects of body language and tone, millions of people are now suffering from virtual meeting fatigue.
Some corporate leaders, managers, and other authorities are beginning to grow concerned about stagnated development. Junior and inexperienced employees tend to thrive more in environments where they’re constantly interacting and engaging with peers and mentors. After witnessing stagnated skill development, remote work is looking less attractive.
Loneliness and Isolation
Remote work doesn’t have to be lonely, but it often is. Despite the fact that most people celebrated the opportunity to get away from bosses and coworkers, the reality is, human beings are social creatures that thrive in groups. The novelty of alone time at work quickly wore off for millions of people. Additionally, it was replaced by loneliness, and sometimes, depression. It’s true that people can find substitute forms of social interaction, spending more time with friends and family members or engaging in public groups, but for many, interacting in a traditional work environment feels like a practical necessity.
Incentives and Demands
There are many possible motivations for corporate decision makers to reestablish a traditional office environment. Some might flatly desire the old way of doing things, for no other reason than personal preference. Whatever the motivations are, these leaders are prepared to make demands and/or offer incentives. This way they get people back into the office by any means necessary.
The Future Is Hybrid?
If remote work is no longer the universal future we thought it was, then what about hybrid work? In this flexible arrangement, companies can have some of their employees working traditionally, with others working from home; they can also allow working from home only during certain days or certain periods.
We’d argue that the hybrid model has the potential to grant companies and employees the best of both worlds, maintaining some of the advantages of remote work without completely abandoning the traditional office model. But it remains to be seen whether the hybrid model is going to be the most popular adoption.
Regardless of whether you prefer traditional office work or remote work, there’s no ambiguity in the fact that many companies are starting to transition away from the remote work model. If you’re a remote worker who would like to keep those benefits, you’d better start preparing a good pitch. And if you’re dying to get back into the office, rejoice – your ideal transition may be just around the corner.