The return of the office worker

What’s happening? Apple employees have urged the tech giant to embrace flexible working as part of its diversity and inclusion efforts in an internal letter. It was sent two days after CEO Tim Cook said staff should return to the office three days a week from September. The letter made several formal requests, including allowing teams to make remote and location-flexible work decisions, and for the firm to make an assessment of how remote working could offset the environmental consequences of returning to the office. (The Verge)

Why does this matter? Whether you’ve been unsuccessfully navigating the mute button on Zoom, or are now required to once again leave home for work, there’s no escaping the fact the grand working-from-home experiment has demonstrated there’s no reason working life could now permanently change. Opinions still differ, however, on how our new working world should be structured.

Over 80% of workers do not want to return to offices full-time, according to a survey conducted by Harvard Business School – with many willing to quit if denied flexibility. Alternatively, Amy C. Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor studying human interaction, says remote work was a lifesaver during the pandemic but notes this does not mean it is an optimal way of working.

Changing policies – Striking a balance amid differing worker needs adds complexity to the issue, and this goes some way to explain the variety of work policies produced by corporates and Big Tech firms.

Facebook, for example, has recently updated its work-from-home policy to apply to all employees if their job can be performed remotely. Whereas JPMorgan – initially in favour of remote work – has since announced a compulsory return for US employees by July, a move reflective of Goldman Sachs.

Work stress – A return to offices, however, will require companies to consider the mental strain of the last year on employees, especially junior staff in professional services, some of whom experienced extreme burnout due to a lack of social interaction and teamwork during the pandemic. However, decisions from corporates to return to offices could also highlight the stresses felt by c-suite members in adjusting to remote work. This has also been felt by employees, with many finding it difficult to separate work from leisure time.

Supporting mental health – For those returning to offices, feelings of anxiety can be expected as they adjust to in-person interactions with co-workers. Support platforms are beginning to emerge to help with this, with Samsung, British Airways and Virgin Media utilising Unmind – an app offering tools to address depression, anxiety and insomnia.

Equipping managers with the information to approach and effectively handle employee concerns is also crucial, while the removal of hierarchical structures has also been identified to help make reaching out easier for workers.

This article first appeared in our weekly newsletter, Sustt.

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Fred Fullerton

Sustainability Curator

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