Employers around the nation are coming up with various reasons for why remote working will die. The wave of pandemic workplace innovations has caused a spike in flexible and hybrid workplace arrangements. Office spaces sit empty as more and more employees seek remote working opportunities to accommodate a pandemic lifestyle in hopes of also achieving a healthier work/life balance. This is much to the chagrin of many employers.
A January 2023 Washington Post article listed peak office attendance at 50.4%. The question remains, will this number level off or continue to climb. This represents the highest occupancy number in the Pandemic era. Many experts believe that this number won’t go any higher as flexible work seems entrenched in the work place. Employees facing rigid onsite work requirements can usually find a position that suits their wishes for a hybrid workplace, if not fully remote.
Our LinkedIn poll suggests that this 50% occupancy will hold, if not retreat some. Only time will tell.
A recent Supply Chain Brain article is now suggesting that almost half the work force is or has been feeling burnt out. They go on to say that employers can help with this burn out by allowing for flexible schedules. These hybrid work arrangements allow for a more fruitful work life balance and can prevent things like quiet quitting.
Before the Pandemic hit, approximately 16.8 million Americans were working remotely. That number has more than doubled since then with 36.2 million Americans now working from home. This has created a new set of protocols and issues, particularly with measuring productivity for a remote or hybrid workforce. The traditional measures of monitoring the office and workplace habits of employees is no longer viable. Typically, managers and human resources departments would track hours worked by employees based on when they were in the office; how much time did they take for lunch each day, are they regularly on time in the mornings, do they stay late or leave early, etc. However, as the Pandemic crunch hit, these measures became less viable.
The question remains: how is an employer to measure the productivity of remote employees? It would stand to reason that if productivity were substantially down, the remote working environment would have been squashed by now. Then again, the future is still unclear.
Why remote working will die: Maximizing Assets
Around the world, employers have a significant amount of their income invested in office space. Desks, chairs, printers, equipment, trash cans, bathroom supplies, cleaning supplies, and anything else you can think of necessary to make an office run sits idle in offices around the country. This says nothing of the significant amount of capital that’s on the books for mortgages and leases. If the boss is the only one in the office why do they need all that space? An argument could be made that employers will begin requiring onsite office attendance in order to ensure that allocated space (along with budgeted dollars) is being used to justify the expense.
Large cities are feeling the pinch of remote work. Once busy city centers are boarding up businesses because of the rapid decrease in work day businesses. The trickle down – or up – effect of this is significant because these businesses are struggling to honor their leases. In addition to massive floors of office space sitting empty, other commercial tenants that relied on workers to be in the office are also struggling. This is fueling return to office pressure with new emphasis.
Employers could liquidate these assets and remove the expense from their balance sheets. If there is no one that wants to work in the office, then it would stand to reason that productivity and morale could be damaged by forcing people back.
This is especially evident in the supply chain world as a massive talent war is taking place. There are thousands more open jobs than candidates to fill them, with one current estimate at 856,000 open manufacturing jobs and only a fraction of the number of people available to fill them. According to a recent article in The Hill, “Manufacturing, transportation and warehousing and shipping are particularly feeling the brunt of structural, worker-driven changes roiling the labor market. There aren’t enough workers to unload goods from ships, while demand for truck drivers exceeds job applicants.”
This leads us to ask the following question: is it prudent, financially and otherwise, to insist upon having an onsite workforce at pre-pandemic levels? Should supply chain employers be insisting that remote working will die?