‘It’s Not My Responsibility’ to Save the Office Economy | Mint

‘It’s Not My Responsibility’ to Save the Office Economy

Office-occupancy rates have stagnated around 50%, even as more companies step up in-office work mandates.
Office-occupancy rates have stagnated around 50%, even as more companies step up in-office work mandates.

Summary

  • Hundreds of workers told us why they aren’t coming back to the office

If there’s an overarching truth in the workplace right now, it’s this: Many workers don’t want to go back to the office. Plenty of bosses say they should.

The result is a stalemate. Office-occupancy rates have stagnated around 50%, even as more companies step up in-office work mandates.

Hundreds of WSJ readers responded to our story about why many workers aren’t returning. Their arguments for and against in-office work all or most days of the week were varied, and turned on debates over productivity, child care, work-life balance, even identity.

At the core of many comments is whether the prepandemic status quo is worth saving.

“Everything from daycare to public transportation, toll roads, fuel and fuel taxes, auto purchases and maintenance, dry cleaners, nail spas, restaurants, clothiers, hair stylists, dog walkers, nannies and office leases suffer when people work from home," said Dean Porter of Houston. “Mayors and governors and too many managers want people back commuting."

Workers who do a good portion of their job remotely contend they aren’t obligated to prop up the office, or an office-centric economy.

“It is not my responsibility to save downtown by going back to the office," said Merrik Wright of Miami. “The average worker should not be in charge of something that just costs us time and money."

And while bosses extol the benefits of in-office collaboration and culture, many people said there was much about the old office that shouldn’t be salvaged.

The open office is a turnoff

Some called the ubiquitous open-office layout, designed to both save real estate costs and encourage idea-sharing, a productivity killer.

“Why in the world would I go back to the office? The ‘open layout’ office plan is a disaster for doing any actual thinking," said Jon Peterson of Los Angeles.

“It is, oftentimes, impossible to focus," agreed Patrick Hajovsky of Houston. “There’s a lack of privacy and a general attitude that you are merely a cog, and not a valued employee. Working from a home office offers you a personal dignity."

Some said collaboration has become easier with remote work. “We have an active Team message going all day. When in the office, that does not happen, and on some days I don’t even interact with the people I work with," said Susan Renton of Denver.

The end of HQ?

Others argued that the idea of a central location was obsolete, especially when colleagues are based in other regions, anyway.

“Only one person on my larger team lives less than a continent away from me. Most employees within 50 miles of me don’t have any other local co-workers," said Ron LaPedis, a cybersecurity global enablement leader based in San Francisco. His company shut down the local office, he said, “since there was no reason to go to it just for Zoom meetings."

David Weingart of Jackson, Wyo., added: “Most of those meetings that are supposedly so vital will take place on Teams or Zoom with someone in another city anyway, so what’s the point of being in the office?"

Productivity is a management issue

Many managers harbor doubts about employee productivity outside the office. Some workers we heard from argued that meeting goals was a management—not location—issue.

“No matter where people work, results and the quality of work being produced should be how they’re graded," said Bryan Schmidt of Phoenix. “Adults shouldn’t need to be babysat to get their jobs done."

Bridget Moorman, an American working in Germany, agreed. Leaders “must know the people working for them, their abilities, and hold them accountable," she said. “I find it not productive to demand someone warm a seat somewhere just so a manager can have them ‘available.’ "

It isn’t a 9-to-5 workday anymore

Technology has blurred the boundaries of the workday and off-hour work has proliferated. Working remotely, some people wrote, has let them regain balance.

“The difference in your activity is between a solid block of time devoted to your employer [in office] versus a discontinuous stretch of time when you’re home," said David Oberman of Redlands, Calif. “In both cases, you can work the same number of hours."

Time in the workday isn’t lost, just restructured, said George Nimmer of Fairfax, Va. “I spend a couple hours a day chasing kids around the house. But I’m also online and doing work at 6:30 a.m. while the kids are still sleeping, and again at 8 p.m. after the kids are in bed. My manager and colleagues see and appreciate that."

New generations of workers, who are more accustomed to virtual work, will force the issue, said Brenda Kramer of Sherwood, Ore.

“One of my sons did an entire year of high school remote and the other did a year of college that way," she said. “They will be in the workforce full-time within the next few years and simply do not see value in the punishing commutes their Gen X parents suffered."

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