Every few days, there seems to be a media frenzy around another large company’s CEO calling their workers back to their physical offices. The reasons they’ve cited include everything from productivity losses to remote work being unsuitable for inspiring creativity and innovation.
But as someone who has worked fully remotely for the past six years—and worked from home weekly in my decade at a Fortune 500 company—something didn’t ring true. So I took a look at the data. And guess what? The data tells a different story about some of the most commonly cited reasons about the benefits of working in the physical office.
Read on for some of the most frequent reasons companies are recalling their workforce into the office and recent research that provides a different perspective.
Myth 1: Working in the office is necessary to enable collaboration and foster teamwork.
Scientific American’s review of research found that the larger the in-person group, the fewer novel ideas each person has—but the opposite is the case for electronic brainstorming. The more people included in your virtual brainstorming session, the larger number of novel ideas per person. Now that the majority of workers have access to digital collaboration tools, according to the Gartner, Inc. Digital Worker Experience Survey, there’s little reason to get the team together in person for many collaborative tasks. Still not convinced? Consider the sustained success of fully remote companies such as GitLab, Automattic, and InVision.
Myth 2: You can’t build a cohesive company culture without everyone in the office together.
SHRM’s Organizational Culture toolkit mentions numerous factors that go into creating a cohesive culture, but—spoiler alert—having your entire workforce in the same physical space isn’t one of them. Similarly, McKinsey’s research into the factors influencing last year’s Great Resignation found employees seek greater connection with leaders and aspire to be part of a cohesive team. But that didn’t mean they wanted to come into the office. To retain employees, organizations need to evolve their approach to building community, cohesion, and a sense of belonging at work.
Myth 3: Workers are more productive in the physical office than working remotely.
Gallup research indicates that remote workers are more productive than on-site workers. That’s because workers with the opportunity to work from home are more engaged, which has been shown to improve productivity and lead to the best business outcomes. The WFH project’s ongoing research similarly found that nearly six out of 10 workers reported being more productive working from home than they expected to be, compared with 14 percent who said they got less done. On average, respondents’ productivity at home was 7 percent higher than they expected.
Myth 4: Remote workers have low morale and feel isolated.
A survey by the mental health research website Tracking Happiness found that the ability to work remotely is positively correlated with employee happiness. Those fully remote workers reported a happiness level about 20% higher than full-time office workers. A study from the ADP Research Institute — titled People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View — agreed with those findings, finding remote employees to be more optimistic (89%) than their on-premises coworkers (77%) and have more job satisfaction (90%) compared to those that commute to the office (82%). Additionally, a mid-2020 McKinsey study found a 55% increase in job satisfaction for remote workers. So while some employees may have felt isolated or had low morale in the early days of the pandemic when Covid restrictions replaced much of their daily routines with being stuck in their homes 24/7, that doesn’t appear to have persisted.
Myth 5: Workers need to be in the office to access specific resources and equipment that is only available in the office.
Not every job lends itself to working from home. For example, if you are a machinist, you need to be on the shop floor where the machine you’re employed to run is physically located. But many jobs—even blue-collar jobs typically associated with being on-site only—have found ways to be remote-friendly. McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey found 58 percent of Americans who have the opportunity to work from home do so at least one day a week. Further, 35 percent of respondents report having the option to work from home five days a week. If you’re thinking they must have just surveyed coastal knowledge workers, think again. Their respondents work in a wide range of jobs across the country and include workers in jobs commonly thought of as “blue collar” positions requiring on-site work.
Myth 6: Digital work makes it harder to protect sensitive information and data.
A recent article in CPO magazine suggests that a home office might be as safe, if not more secure, than an office cubicle. Why? They hypothesized that perceived trust in physical office settings makes them less secure than many remote working environments. For example, unencrypted network protocols are extremely common on a corporate network, while most home networks have firewalls and password encryption. Then there’s the physical data theft aspect. While someone can easily tailgate employees into the company HQ and access computers or data on thumb drives, that’s pretty unlikely to happen at someone’s home office. And, if working from home was truly more of a security risk than being in the office, you’d expect to see at least one of the most significant data security incidents from 2022 in this report to have mentioned being caused by a remote worker.
Myth 7: It costs businesses more to subsidize workers working at home.
Some company leaders have said it’s costly to support allowing people to work remotely. But, in most cases, few employers are paying for much, if any, of the home office costs. So that argument may not hold much water. Also, starting in 2021, The WSJ reported companies expect to reap millions of dollars in savings in the years ahead as they scale back on office space. Global Workplace Analytics estimates companies could save over $500 billion a year in real estate, electricity, absenteeism, turnover, and productivity. And let’s not forget that those huge physical company HQs also required that companies pay for utilities, janitorial services, security, maintenance, office supplies, coffee and water service, parking spaces, transit subsidies, ADA compliance, and furniture, to name a few recurring expenses.
It doesn’t take a physical office to give your people a sense of being part of a cohesive team. But it is important to bring your remote workers together in a virtual space that inspires collaboration and interaction. See how Frameable Spaces can give your distributed teams all the benefits of working together, no matter where they are.