As Omicron wanes, where does that leave working from home?


I was chatting recently with a friend of mine who runs a small business when he asked if "it’s time to get people back into the office?"

My reply: "Are they still working well for you from home?"

"Yes, but Covid's not that big a deal now."

"First, it's still a big deal. Besides, ever hear of the BA.2 variant? You will."

I explained in further detail: "If it's not broken, why fix it? Your people are good, their work's good, what's not to like? Let them keep working from home."

He finally agreed to let his people stay home and is getting rid of some of his office leases. But many other business owners aren’t so smart; they still want their people back in the office.

Here's the problem: they don't want to go back — not next month, not later this year, not in 2023. Not ever.

As Lars Schmidt, the founder of Amplify, an HR company, told LinkedIn, organizations that cling to the old, pre-pandemic office ways are just asking for trouble: "They’re going to struggle to hold talent. They’re going to struggle to recruit talent. They will be the poster children for the Great Resignation if they’re trying to box their employees into constructs they don’t want."

You won't be able to easily hire someone to fill those empty jobs when they leave, either. Don't believe me? Here's a telling data point from ZipRecruiter: "remote" jobs receive 300% more applicants than conventional jobs in the office. It's stopped being just an issue with tech jobs, too. Now, almost all white-collar jobs that didn’t absolutely require an in-office presence have gone remote. 

The IT company Ivanti recently surveyed several thousand office workers and IT professionals. Guess what it found? 87% of employees don't want to work from the office full-time. If you insist they go back, 24% say they'll quit first.

This isn't a one-off. Many other reports show the same thing. According to LinkedIn's Global Talent Trends 2022 report, people want the freedom to work where and when they want and they’re ready to walk away from jobs that don’t meet that need.

They're not kidding.

As Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economics professor, told NBC News, "the idea of a full return is dead."

Think you can call workers' bluff now that the Covid-19 pandemic appears to be receding? Think again. A recent Harvard Business Review study showed that while more than 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021 — a record, but the way — the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment numbers show that the great resignation wasn't sparked by the pandemic. Instead, it was the crest of a long-term wave of people leaving jobs.

Why? The authors, Joseph Fuller and William Kerr, both Harvard Business School professors, say it's because of the Five Rs. These are retirement, relocation, reconsideration, reshuffling, and reluctance.

Specifically, "workers are retiring in greater numbers, but aren’t relocating in large numbers; they’re reconsidering their work-life balance and care roles; they’re making localized switches among industries, or a reshuffling, rather than exiting the labor market entirely; and, because of pandemic-related fears, they’re demonstrating a reluctance to return to in-person jobs."

One way you can push back against this trend is by not giving valued employees a reason to retire, relocate, or reconsider their jobs. In other words, if they're happy working from home: Let them. A happy worker at home is better for you than an unhappy one walking out the door.

It's the least you can do, both for them and the future of your company.

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