Charlie Munger: We are never going back to a five-day work week in the office

Will we ever return to a five-day in-office work week? Charlie Munger doesn’t think so.

Even as COVD-19 restrictions ease across the U.S. and employers call on workers to resume in-person workdays, the famed investor said Wednesday during The Daily Journal’s annual shareholders meeting that he does not expect white-collar employees will ever return to in-person work full-time again.

“It’s amazing the percentage of people in computer science that don’t want to be in the office for a normal life,” Munger said. “They want to do a lot of it from locations that are more convenient for them — I think that’s going to remain forever.”

His view comes amid a broad push by leaders in corporate America to get staff back to the physical workplace as states increasingly drop mask mandates and lift pandemic-related restrictions. Most recently, Microsoft told U.S. employees to begin returning to their offices starting Feb. 28 in an attempt to resume normal operations as virus case numbers recede.

Corporate employers have played back-and-forth for months on office policies amid changing guidelines from local government leaders and the ebbs and flow in coronavirus case counts across the country, with the Delta and Omicron variants disrupting plans for broader returns this past year.

As the latest Omicron-driven wave appears to abate, on Wall Street, office attendance at financial giants including JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America have risen in recent weeks, while American Express said earlier this month it would ask New York employees to work from their offices at least once a week starting in March, embracing a hybrid model.

The J.P. Morgan logo sign on the entrance of a glass office building in Midtown Manhattan, New York, USA on 23 January 2020. JPMorgan Chase & Co. is an American multinational investment bank and financial services holding company has the headquarters in New York City. NY, USA (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

But many employees who have become accustomed to working remotely over the past two years have resisted calls for full-time onsite returns, especially as some companies continue to embrace at-home work and experiment with hybrid schedules.

A recent survey conducted by the Advanced Workplace Associates, global management consulting firm, of nearly 10,000 people working in the finance, technology and energy sectors around the world found that only 3% of white-collar employees are willing to return to full-time office hours.

In the U.S., 84% of survey participants said they want to work from home two or more days a week.

“Employers have to realize that the genie is out of the bottle,” AWA managing director Andrew Mawson said in a statement. “Workers have seen that flexibility can work and bosses who are not sensitive to their employees’ needs will suffer accordingly.”

At The Daily Journal meeting, Munger also suggested that a full recovery in business travel was unlikely.

“I don’t think the average corporation is going to fly its directors around so they can sit at the same table for every meeting of the year,” Munger said.

“The Berkshire Hathaway directors have met face-to-face twice a year and done everything else on the telephone or with consent minutes, and it’s worked fine,” he added. “I don’t think we needed all these goddamn meetings and airplane flights.”

While Munger argued that completing business activities remotely has made certain components of work “simpler, cheaper, and more efficient,” he argued, on the other hand, that federal stimulus for workers sidelined during the pandemic has been too liberal.

“What makes capitalism work is the fact that if you’re an able-bodied young person if you refuse to work, you suffer a fair amount of agony, and because of that agony, the whole economic system works,” he said, adding effective, prospering economies have traditionally imposed hardship on young people who don’t want to work.

“You take away that hardship and say ‘you can stay home and get more than if you come into work,’ that’s quite disruptive to an economic system like ours,” Munger added. “The next time we do this, I don’t think we ought to be so liberal.”

Alexandra Semenova is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alexandraandnyc

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