Remote work drives wedge between companies, employees

Office workers rushing to their jobs. (Photo: IR Stone, via Shutterstock)

Within their homes and offices, tensions are rising between employers and employees.

At least for now, COVID-19 levels appear to be declining, and some major companies have begun to push their employees to return to the office following an extended period of working from home.

Tesla’s Elon Musk told employees he was implementing an in-office 40-hour work week, and said their options were to do it, “or quit.”  Meanwhile, Google was enforcing pay cuts on employees who choose to work remotely. The transition back to in-person work is being pushed by numerous employers across the country.

The average daily cost of an employee’s commute to work in dense cities such as San Francisco is nearing $60.

In a 2022 report by Microsoft, 50% of workplace leaders have said that they intend on transitioning to in-person work within the coming year. But that’s at odds with some workers’ wishes: 51% of employees currently undertaking hybrid work intend on transitioning to fully remote work in the same year.

Stresses between current employers and their employees highlight both the current fluctuating workforce amidst the pandemic, as well as the sense of tension between management’s view on remote work.

With the average daily cost of an employee’s commute to work in dense cities such as San Francisco reaching up to $60, the switch to remote work would certainly charm the disenchanted commuter. A 2020 survey found that California ranked 6th in states in terms of the longest commute time – often around an hour for a round trip commute.

Remote work has provided flexibility for many employees, hence the 2022 finding that 49% of workers would be willing to endure a pay cut if it meant staying remote. In the same survey, 75% of employees said that their managers have expressed a desire to return to remote work.

In the U.K., 60% of workers believe they have been subjected to surveillance while completing remote work.

Although companies’ greatest fear often revolves around a decrease in worker productivity with remote work, findings in at least one study showed that remote work can actually increase productivity 47%.

The workforce has changed throughout the pandemic, resulting in a widespread belief among employees that returning fully to in-person work would be a “deal-breaker”.

So if employees want to remain at work and productivity is increasing, why are employers pushing for a return to in-person work?

One answer lies in distrust between employers and employees.

In the U.K., 60% of workers believe they have been subjected to surveillance while completing remote work. In the U.S., 2021 gave rise to a wave of attorneys who had to use facial-scanning software while working remotely; a way for their employers to ensure they were working productively.

A 2022 survey by Apollo Technical found that 44% of companies do not allow for any remote work options at all, an indication of pre-pandemic beliefs regarding productivity remotely versus in person.

Despite the tensions, many companies are experimenting with options that align with post-pandemic attitudes among workers. The 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit organization, recently launched a widespread initiative for thousands of U.S. workers creating a 4 day work week.

Siemens, a multinational engineering company  and large employer in the Sacramento region, has become one company to create a 2-3 day workweek model, incorporating remote work.

In the National Federation of Independent Business’ 2022 Small Business Survey, 24% of small businesses are facing a labor shortage. Over half of the employees within a separate 2022 survey were found to have switched jobs in the five months, and two-thirds of those who switched moved to jobs that allowed for increased remote work.

Despite tensions between employers and employees, it is clear that the post-pandemic workforce is evolving and prioritizing remote work at high rates. Employees may have to adopt their workplace models in order to adhere to this changing body of employees.

Editor’s Note: Lola Watts is a Capitol Weekly intern from UC Santa Barbara.


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