Will workers be required to return to the office?

I’m regularly surprised at how quickly I got used to (nearly) full-time remote work following 3/20. What are your thoughts/understandings as to whether it will continue indefinitely, and why or why not? I understand this does not apply to folk in retail, healthcare, in service jobs, manufacturing, construction, education, or settings where they have to directly interact with customers or clients.

How many employees (in the US? Elsewhere?) are what I consider “office workers”, who basically used to report to an office building where they sat at a desk or in a cubicle or office, and did paper/phone/computer work. I assume most of them quickly went to 100% remote work. How many of them have had to return to the office what percentage of the time?

I read the other day that Chicago area commuter rail ridership was at 40% of pre-COVID. The article said that if commuters don’t return, the system should be re-envisioned as something other than a commuter service.

Our office holds hearings. The prior system was that the standard hearing was held in person, in our offices. Video or telephone hearings were only allowed in unusual situations. Different classes of employees were allowed different amounts of remote work. Some were allowed to work at home 100%. I was allowed 2 days per week.

Now, the STANDARD is for phone hearings, with fewer than 10% being scheduled in person. I can work at home any day that I do not have in in person hearing. My impression is that most people involved prefer having the hearings via phone.

I wonder if at some point TPTB will decide that we have to stop what seems to be working just fine, and head back into the office. Nearly 3 years in, I have seen no significant drop off in quality or quantity - no reason we CAN’T continue with most employees at home most of the time. If we DON’T, I wonder when TPTB will take the step of jettisoning unused office space, consolidating offices, etc.

Our employees are working from home most of the time. A few, for a variety of reasons, prefer to come into the office. We are definitely going to downsize our main office as soon as our lease is up. We only need about 50% of the size we needed before. We don’t even need that much, but there are reasons for keeping it. If we had to, we could downsize around 90%. We’re not requiring any workers to return to the office (except receptionists who need to be there for the mail, etc).

Two of our lawyers have moved out of state. Most of our paralegals are working 100% from home.

Apologies for not researching myself before posting.

This article says 2 million “office jobs” have been lost between 2016-21, largely due to automation.

And this says there are only 750k office workers.

But those don’t seem to include all types of jobs that could be done remotely, such as call centers, or IT or other “technology” jobs.

Boy - the more googling I do, the clearer it seems that different people are counting/defining vastly different things!

For folk who began working at home w/ covid, do you anticipate that your employer will require you to resume in office work at some future time?

Our employer has tried this several times, and the unit I’m in requires 2 days in office a week, supposedly. Other divisions do not have any such requirements yet.

But when they tried to enforce the 2 days a week, we lost so many employees they stopped trying. So at true moment it’s up to each manager, which is an HR nightmare.

this just in:

My company has already reduced our real estate footprint, and embraced “hybrid” working, where most people optionally come in to an office when they want/need, but do not have assigned desks or offices any more. I have been in one of our offices only once since March 2019 to get a new laptop, after the hybrid plan was implemented, and the place was deserted. I have a feeling the remaining office space is still vastly more than is needed under current conditions, and I dont get the sense they’ll be asking us back at any point.

I dont mind the teleworking, but I do miss some aspects of our offices, specifically the connections made with colleagues you get with face-to-face interaction.

In my case no. My company closed the office. We can only work from home now.

The amazing thing was the building our office was in did not offer anything like a discount when the lease was up. They still wanted a 5+ year lease and they still wanted the same, outrageous rental fees they had before despite the building now being more than half empty.

So, the company said f-that. We’re out. So many other tenants did the same the building nearly went into foreclosure. But damned if they were going to take a penny less on exorbitant rents.

Two skyscrapers in Los Angeles just defaulted on their debt.

Until property prices sort themselves out I doubt companies will be eager to lease space on a long-term basis if they do not have to. No office, nothing to return to.

Add in fixing transit so commutes are not the hell they were. No employee will be eager to return to spending three hours per day on a commute (not to mention the money that cost).

Of course, there will be exceptions and people still work in offices but broadly, it would seem some fundamental issues need to be resolved to get people back into offices.

I think the pandemic forced a paradigm shift for office work, from the cubicle farms and collaborative office design we all hated, to telework. I dont think we’re ever going back to what was. I also suspect companies are going to be using teleworking/100% remote as a recruiting and retention tool - who would want to work for an inflexible employer who wants your butt in a chair at the office 5 days a week now? Sure, if you have tenure and live nearby you may stay put, but people early in their careers will likely pass on that, and smart companies can now hire talent located anywhere.

In finance in NYC, the pressure seems to be on to return to work, at least most of the time. Some companies are trying (and failing) to insist on 5 days in. I think the industry will end up with 4 to 5 days per week, with Friday the most common WFH day.

I don’t know about other industries.

I work for the Canadian Federal Government, as do a lot of people in my city. At the start of COVID, everyone who could work from home was told to do so, and we shifted to full time WFH pretty quickly. There were some initial problems with our network connections getting swamped, so it took much longer to do some tasks than normal, but I adjusted by shifting my work hours a bit. I’d start earlier, work until the system started slowing down, and then take a few hours off, and come back later in the day when things had slowed down.

Now, everything works fine. There was a plan to start bringing people back to the office part-time starting last year, but the government in general left it up to the individual departments to figure out who should come in, and how often. This naturally meant different offices had different policies, so late last year, the top guys said that they were going to impose a uniform return to office policy for all departments, with a minimum 2 or 3 days in office (The don’t have a good grasp on the definitions of “uniform” or “minimum”, yes, we know).

This caused great consternation among the people affected. In my job, just before the official word came down, we had been told that we’d all have a choice as to WFH, Hybrid, or in-office. My bosses keep telling me that’s still the plan, and the Official Plan doesn’t change that, but of course, there’s little confidence in that. However, we did give up a lot of office space as a result of the first plan, so if we’re stuck having to use the Official Plan, their jobs will get a lot harder.

And no one is really sure why the government top dogs suddenly decided returning to the office is so important. They spent two and half years bragging about how well we shifted to WFH without reducing our work output. The suspicion is, they’re getting pressure from businesses that have lost money because we don’t have a few hundred thousand people commuting into downtown every day.

And just to make it even more fun, just about all the Federal Workers’ Unions are in the middle of negotiating new contracts, and this issue is front and center for that. Going to be an interesting year.

I don’t know about the office buildings, but I know there’s a whole lot of other businesses around here who simply refuse to adapt to the new reality. Even after three years now of WFH, they’re basing their business model on having thousands of commuters show up for morning coffee and lunches. It’s frustrating, because even if we went to 3 days a week in-office, they’d still only be at 60% of what they used to have. They have to adapt, at least a bit, but they just won’t.

Around here, the transit system has gotten worse. They lost a lot of drivers, and are having a lot of problems recruiting new ones. Bus schedules are at best vague suggestions now, and often outright fiction. We have a new train that keeps a schedule pretty well any day the system doesn’t just break down entirely, but it often breaks down entirely, and in any case, a lot of people need to take a bus to get to the train station, so the random bus schedules means the train isn’t getting nearly as much use as was planned.

One of the fundamental bits of the “physics” of transit systems is that the busier they are the better they work. A high density of bodies on similar journeys at similar times can be efficiently catered for. A lower density of bodies on less uniform journeys cannot.

The limit case of the former is probably inner London or NYC on a weekday morning. The limit case of the latter is probably greater Los Angeles or Houston on a weekend or mid-week late night.

I think a lot of cities of intermediate size/shape, such as Ottowa, Chicago, Dallas, etc., will find their previously useful & mostly functional transit systems are now ill-suited to the new reality. Busses can be easily rerouted; train tracks, not so much. But no amount of rerouting will remedy a greatly reduced ridership traveling a more diverse pattern of routes at a more diverse span of times.

That way lies single occupancy cars and only single occupancy cars. Whether taxi, uber, or owner-driven.

My employer has now shifted to requiring attorneys to go to the office 2x/week and non-attorneys 3x/week, or more if current work projects require it. There have been lots of exceptions; I got an ADA accommodation for medical conditions and have been 100% remote since Delta hit in 2021. My employer requires vaccination (with limited exceptions), but not masking, and even when they did require masking, it basically wasn’t enforced at all, even when I complained. That was when I decided the hell with this, I’m getting a letter from my doctor because I can work just fine at home. Basically 100% of my normal tasks can be done remotely.

There was some grumbling about my not coming to the office to get physical filings out, but those require final review by an attorney and are supposed to be assembled and actually mailed by an admin, so screw that, I’m not risking my health to complete tasks that aren’t even supposed to be my responsibility. Clients have no trouble reaching me by phone or email, and neither does anyone else. My job is very detail-oriented, and my home is much more peaceful and conducive to concentration than my office was. I don’t even have an assigned office anymore.

Companies in finance often have many legal rules surrounding things like handling of documents, record keeping, communications and so on. That is difficult to impossible to manage if people work from home.

Also, their computers/data systems that manage things are not something that fits in a person’s home. They absolutely need people on site to handle that stuff.

Sorta like suggesting people who work for the NSA could work at home. Just not gonna happen.

I am an actuary, and mostly working from home. I deal with confidential information all the time. We have rules. We have rules around record retention, around confidentiality, around handling documents.

We don’t require top secret security clearance, and the vast amount of private information i work with is of no interest to the vast majority of people. (Do you want the name, birthdate, and diagnosis of some random person you don’t know? Didn’t think so.) But for both legal and ethical reasons, we need to keep it safe from prying eyes. I can do that at home.

My work computer won’t let me download unencrypted data. It checks outgoing emails for things it thinks might be social security numbers. I get annual training in how to maintain data privacy, record retention rules, etc. Most of the largest risks to confidentiality are just at present in the office. It’s not as if what i can send via email changes when i change the physical location of my laptop.

Anyway, my employer just announced we are reducing our office footprint. Makes sense. On the rare occasions when i go in, the place is empty.

How is that different from the law firm where I work? We also have lots of rules surrounding recordkeeping and confidentiality. The firm handles that by housing all documents on the firm’s servers rather than on individual computers and requiring us to log in to the network on a VPN. Phones are virtual via our laptops or a phone app. I am no IT professional, but at least from my side the IT is very similar to the setup when I worked in-house at a Fortune 100 financial institution (where I never worked remotely, but my boss did).

I heard a discussion with a coffee shop owner about this. She wasn’t unwilling to adapt, but said that the patterns hadn’t settled yet – one week Monday is busy, another week it isn’t. And it’s
driving her crazy in terms of both staffing and stocking.

I’ve also heard that since the most common “must be in office” days are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, folks are referring to those poor souls as TWaTs. Which is hilarious.

My company (multinational) closed a floor and a half out of two in my group’s building. Then we got bought, and the new regime wants two days a week starting March 1 and three starting July 1. Doesn’t affect me since I’m 2400 miles away, but people are not happy. The good managers are looking at how to reclassify folks who live a good distance away as remote, but most telling, on a recent all-hands call someone asked how it would be monitored and the answer was “It won’t be–it’s the honor system”. Ummkay, let’s see: there’s nowhere to sit and people have been very productive working remote. Good luck with that!

Before the pandemic, a friend’s group in IBM got sold. He’d been WFH for years. The new owners had a building a few miles from his house, and told him he had to go in every day. To a 90% empty building where the few other folks had nothing to do with his product. He put up with it until he found a real job.

[What] are they thinking? I get the theoretical “F2F improves communication”, but the evidence says otherwise, so…

In my office, we were well into moving everyone off desk top computers to laptops long before COVID, and there was a push on for using “hoteling stations” rather than assigned offices, so we were all going to be taking our laptops home every day anyways. So working from home really doesn’t make that much difference. If I were inclined to being a security risk, that risk was already there, pre-COVID.

WFH just eliminates a lot of commuting.

And speaking of commuting, it’s not just public transit that’s gotten worse. Drivers have gotten worse. If I had to drive to work several days a week, there’s a much increased chance of getting into an accident. I recently saw a cite from our local police, and they have actual stats that show the number of accidents has gone up a lot since pre-COVID times.

Ditto. These services are widely available to corporations. I think we get ours from Microsoft. Google sells a similar suite. No need to roll you own.

I worked in the Loop (downtown Chicago) for most of the past 34 years, in various marketing and advertising roles. They re-opened our offices in mid-2021, and were going to make it mandatory for people to come into the office at least 2-3 days a week, until the Delta variant hit that fall; that caused a change of plans, and the mandate was dropped.

In the year and a half since then, they have talked about, “it’s be excellent if people were in the office sometimes,” but haven’t made it mandatory. The holding company which owns my ad agency (as well as a half-dozen other agencies) is the “name tenant” on our building, and we have about 20 floors of a 50 story building. I go in every once in a while, and it’s still very quiet; the section of one floor, which houses our agency’s Chicago staff, is set up to house about 75 people, but I’ve not seen more than a dozen there on any of my trips in, and usually less than that. I take the commuter train in from the suburbs, and that has always been pretty empty, too.

It doesn’t help that a lot of people at the agency relocated during COVID, and now live nowhere near one of our offices.

I think a lot of the hand-wringing in the C- suite over returning to the office has less to do with trust and productivity and more to do with real estate commitments and budget. Those empty offices have to be a constant irritant as money keeps getting pumped over to landlords, and those leases were signed pre-pandemic for many years to get a good cost. Now they’re stuck with what appears to be an un-needed cost - the best way to reduce the irritation is getting people back at desks.