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Honeymoon over as firms ditch remote working for office

By Peter Theuri | July 18th 2021

Some employers feel that their employees have too much time in their hands. [Courtesy]

Has the world lowered guard and, probably confident we have mastered the moves, invited the devil for a dance? Whether that is the case or not, the caution that was first observed in 2020 at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic is over, and employees are now being recalled back to the office as nothing stirred.

In July last year, Knight Frank Africa was warning of a significant shift in behaviour of office workers, with the most flexible employer being the winner.

“The current crisis has introduced a new dynamic for all types of corporate occupiers, from multinationals to corporate occupiers in Africa. While we are unlikely to witness an extreme shift to remote working, flexibility and collaboration are going to be core values to any organisation going forward,” said Knight Frank Africa Researcher Tilda Mwai in July 2020.

At the time, however, Knight Frank reported that 48 per cent of African firms expected that 75 per cent to 100 per cent of their employees would return to work on a full-time basis.

This even as behemoth companies allowed their workforce to operate remotely. Just recently, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company will allow all full-time employees to work from home “if their jobs can be done remotely”.

“We’ve learned over the past year that good work can get done anywhere, and I’m even more optimistic that remote work at scale is possible, particularly as remote video presence and virtual reality continue to improve,” Zuckerberg wrote in a memo according to CNBC.

The transition from the office to working from home was seen as a tedious exercise for many companies and employees, but was soon widely accepted.

“When people work from home, they have a lot of productive time in their hands,” said Bidco Africa Chairman Vimal Shah. “They do not have to waste time in traffic, neither do they take moments having regular chitchats with workmates, which could consume a significant chunk of their time.”

Some employers feel that their employees have too much time in their hands. [Courtesy]

But there were, obviously, hitches even with the new working plan. Working from home was going to be a distraction for people who shared tiny spaces with their families.

Their houses were also unlikely to be fitted with some of the crucial equipment that would optimise their performance. On Zoom meetings, some had problems connecting due to network issues.

Others ran into problems that came along with using new technology, with some even getting embarrassed; a US’ attorney appeared with the face of a cat in court proceedings.

But is it time to go back to the office?

Google recently reported it intends to bring its workforce back to the office. This was after internal research at the Alphabet Inc unit, conducted on Google Software Engineers, showed that they experienced more “collaboration and social connections” at work and that they “craved physical proximity when working on new projects”, according to Bloomberg.

While real estate developers have been rushing to make sure that they build houses fitted with office spaces to make the working-from-home model a viable option post-pandemic, it seems to be an effort in futility.

Market researchers and consultants Martec Group found, in a recent survey, a significant decline in mental health across all industries, seniority levels, and demographics in the US. Job satisfaction, job motivation, and company satisfaction were also negatively affected. The research also found that job satisfaction and job motivation have also fallen — from 57 per cent to 32 per cent and 56 per cent to 36 per cent respectively, according to Forbes.

A number of companies that have been intent on the hybrid model, where employees can work remotely or in the office, are now ditching remote working and are demanding for the return to work of their employees.

Working from home was going to be a distraction for people who shared tiny spaces with their families. [Courtesy]

Apple recently sent a memo telling staff they would be required back in the office by early September.

Some employers feel that their employees have too much time in their hands to deliver the usual amount of work they did pre-pandemic and while working in the office.

As such, they demand more output. And some employees, on the other hand, feel that they have been subjected to more work due to this belief, working more hours than usual and attending more meetings than ever.

These two schools of thought converge, therefore, making a return to the office the only reasonable option.

“A common refrain is that remote work stymies collaboration and innovation because the latter in particular often arises from spontaneous conversations in the office. There’s also concern that the work-from-home model does not work for junior employees, who want to learn from their colleagues,” writes the BBC.

Probably as the pandemic ebbs away, offices will be full again, and remote working will fade with the disease that popularised the technological idea in the first place.

Covid 19 Time Series


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