Remote work is harder to come by as companies push for return to office


Back in 2020, when schools were still virtual and city dwellers were living their lives in masks, Jamie Dimon emerged as one of the earliest critics of remote work.

"There's a huge value to working together in terms of collaboration and creativity and training the younger people," the CEO of JPMorgan Chase told MSNBC in August of that year.

Three years later, Dimon's message is unchanged. The difference now is that the sentiment has gone mainstream.

Today, even Zoom's leadership is extolling the benefits of in-person work.

"What we've found is, people have enjoyed coming back to the office," says Zoom's Chief People Officer Matthew Saxon. "There is a buzz. There's something about being able to go have lunch with your teammates."

With the pandemic declared over, much of America seems to have settled on the idea that at least some in-person time is beneficial — even necessary — for workplaces. But what remains under hot debate is how much time is needed and who gets to determine that.

According to Kastle Systems, which tracks security card swipes, building occupancy in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and the New York metro area is barely breaking 40%. Houston tops a list of major U.S. cities with occupancy reaching 60%.

It's a sign that many office workers who enjoyed greater autonomy while working from home are not readily giving up that up, even as their employers step up demands for them to come in.

How and when to work has become a negotiation

For most people, it used to be a given that having a job meant going to an office. Now, it's a negotiation.

"These conversations — they're new," says Debbie Lovich, managing director and senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group.

"We never talked about how should we work everyday. But now, we need to because there's so much change out there."

As the months have passed, those conversations have taken on a more urgent tone.

Employers now have research — albeit limited — to back up their demands. Studies have found people get more feedback when they're in the same space as their coworkers, leading to more opportunities for advancement. And while findings on productivity are mixed, there's evidence that fully remote workers encounter more friction when trying to convey information quickly.

After an outcry from Republicans in Congress, the Biden administration has called on federal agencies to "aggressively execute" the shift to more in-office work this fall, a move that's already sparked clashes with federal employee unions.

"I do believe we need to be around each other in person more than we are now, to ensure this department's long-term success," said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said in a video to employees.

Requirements are getting stricter

Across the private sector, in-office requirements are also getting stricter.

The investment management firm BlackRock has asked people to come in at least four days per week starting in September, up from three.

Amazon has informed some remote workers they're going to need to move close to a hub if they want to keep their jobs.

Employees at Farmers Insurance, who just last year were told they would stay remote according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal, now face a requirement to work in person three days a week if they live within 50 miles of a Farmer's office.

After making remote work possible for millions of people, Zoom is now telling some of its own employees to show up in person, in what the company is calling a structured hybrid approach.

Zoom, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., is rolling out a new in-office work policy. Employees who live within 50 miles of an office are expected to work from that office twice a week.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A trial earlier this year helped shape that approach. Engineers who were asked to report to the office one day per week were often frustrated to find their colleagues weren't there, forcing them to sit in on the same Zoom meetings — just from the office.

"The office has to earn its commute," says Saxon.

The company decided the sweet spot was two days per week in the office, but that only applies to employees who live within 50 miles of a Zoom office — about a third of Zoom's total headcount. And even this new policy is an experiment of sorts.

"These things don't stay static," says Saxon. "I think we'll continue to evolve."

Having some say leads to satisfaction

In a recent survey of 1,500 office workers, Boston Consulting Group found 85% working in some kind of hybrid mode, and only 8% fully remote.

Those surveyed said they believe they should be in-person at least a third of the time but preferred to have some say in when they come in.

Compliance and satisfaction were higher when employees' hybrid schedules could vary each week, as opposed to following a set schedule.

"Post-COVID for the first time ever, we are being told when and where to show up, and it just is sparking this reaction from people like, 'Wait a minute, don't you trust me?'" says Lovich.

It's not yet clear what will happen at any of these companies if employees don't comply.

In a statement, the investment bank Citi told NPR, "As necessary, we hold colleagues accountable for adhering to their in-office days," which for most employees is three days per week.

Cooling economy puts pressure on workers

The cooling economy may be adding pressure on employees to be more visible on the job. On Monday, Farmers Insurance announced it was cutting 2,400 jobs, or 11% of its workforce as part of a restructuring.

Already, many workers are confronting the reality that fully and mostly remote positions are becoming harder to find, as we get farther and farther from the pandemic.

Roxana Garcia Espejo was a school teacher in Sugar Land, Tex., before she landed what she describes as her dream job in the spring of 2022. Hired by Microsoft as a senior training associate, she helped clients in schools and companies with Microsoft products such as Excel and other applications.

Roxana Garcia Espejo of Sugar Land, Tex., says her mostly remote job with Microsoft completely changed her work-life balance. In April, she lost that job as part of mass layoffs but still connects with other enthusiasts in the Microsoft Speakers Hub, an online forum.

Rose Falcon

The job required her to work from Microsoft's Houston office 20% of the time, scheduled as she saw fit. For Garcia Espejo, who'd been caring for her elderly parents through the pandemic, the flexibility proved transformative.

"My work-life balance was completely changed," she says.

She began exercising. Her blood pressure dropped. She adapted well to remote work, never feeling out of the loop thanks to a stream of online chats.

"As if it were the all-day chatter of all the teams that I was a part of," she says.

But her dream job was short-lived. A year after being hired, Microsoft announced mass layoffs, and Garcia Espejo's entire unit was cut.

For the last several months, she's been searching for another remote position, with no luck. A year ago, it might have been a different story.

With her unemployment soon running out, she's starting to consider in-person jobs, even teaching — but only as a substitute, where she'd retain some control over her schedule.

"I guess I don't look at it anymore as I'm holding out," says Garcia Espejo. "I look at it as — I'm in control of where I want my ship to sail."

World infamous transgender teacher Kayla Lemieux reportedly doffed her massive prosthetic, nipple-erect breasts, lipstick, and blond wig and showed up at her new high school dressed as a man.

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According to the Daily Mail, Lemieux, 40, showed up for work at Nora Frances Henderson Secondary in Hamilton as a man — complete with a scruffy beard, polo shirt, and shorts — just days before the start of the new school year.

Lemieux, who made a media splash around the world last year thanks to her oversized fake breasts, was previously employed as a shop teacher at Oakville-Trafalgar High School but changed jobs over the summer. The Oakville school reportedly endured bomb threats and staff ended up going on stress leave after the shop teacher was photographed with Z-cup boobs in her classroom.

According to the exclusive report, a Daily Mail reporter asked Lemieux if she would present herself as a man this school year but she did not respond.

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Lemieux previously told the Toronto Sun’s Joe Warmington that her breasts were real and she had been diagnosed with a “hormone sensitivity to estrogen” that caused the excessive growth. She also said she was intersex (born with male and female sex organs), not transgender.

“The diagnosis is based on verbal discussions I have had with my doctor,” Lemieux told Warmington in February. “I never requested a note or letter of these findings. I don’t have anything I can give you.

“I don’t think women, in general, have a formal diagnosis of their breast size. I also personally consider breast size irrelevant … I decided to break my silence and put my name next to my statements, and now I am being asked to provide proof. I really don’t know how to help you with that.”

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When asked about images published by the New York Post in February of a man the media outlet claimed was Lemieux without a wig, makeup, breasts, and other accouterments, the teacher maintained that picture was “not me.”

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Warmington wrote about Lemieux’s change of schools on Aug. 26 and the school board’s message to parents regarding any unwanted media attention as the start of the school year approaches next week.

“In an attempt to be transparent with our community, HWDSB communicated about steps we are taking to facilitate a smooth return to school for students and the broader community,” the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board told the Toronto Sun. “We recently communicated to some parents to inform them of the possibility their child’s school may receive heightened public interest.”

When it comes to showing proof her Z-cup breasts are real, controversial teacher Kayla Lemieux says the public is going to have to take her word for it, writes columnist Joe Warmington..
Oakville Trafalgar High School teacher Kayla Lemieux in shop class. Twitter

A memo to parents from Nora Frances Henderson principal Tom Fisher, which was obtained by the Sun, suggested the school would be welcoming a teacher who was expressing her own “gender expression.”

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Fisher said the school board has an obligation to uphold individual rights and treat everyone with dignity and respect” and “should the school be subject to any disruptions or protests; we are committed to communicating with you as openly and as frequently as possible to ensure student safety – and to share any operational plans.”

The principal also warned parents the school could become the focus of media attention over Lemieux’s presence and that plans had been made for special entry and exit, which included “locking exterior doors during school hours, only using the front main doors during school hours.” Students and visitors would be required to use an intercom system to enter and exit the building on Hamilton Mountain.

Lemieux’s story broke around the globe last fall when photos of her were circulated on social media. The pics showed her wearing a blonde wig and lipstick, with gigantic breasts, nipples erect, being held back by a skin-tight sweater.

She was put on home assignment earlier this year, but the Halton District School Board said it couldn’t address Lemieux’s appearance due to the Ontario Human Rights Code.

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