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Pitching Remote Workers on Returning to the Office

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner , Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

  • Member since 2018
  • 728 items added with 343,046 views
  • Feb 10, 2023

Mobile work became the norm in 2020. Jobs we never thought were possible from home, like internal medicine, quickly found a way to work on Zoom. There were growing pains, of course, but most firms figured it out. In fact, many employees and employers alike found that their new remote setups seemed to work just as well as the office, if not better, while generally improving everyone’s wellbeing. However, over the past six months or so, it seems corporate America’s honeymoon with remote work has come to a close. 

Elon Musk’s hate for remote work is well publicized at this point. He famously said that remote employees were just "pretending to work". However, many less mercurial and attention-seeking CEOs have come out against the new work style. Most notably, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel recently returned all the company’s work to the office. Announcing the new policy, which he called “default together”, the tech CEO begged his workers to sacrifice individual convenience for the sake of collective success. 

The verdict is still out on how the productivity of remote workers compares to that of their office-bound counterparts. What’s more, the cost-benefit comparison becomes very complicated when you take into consideration the talent acquisition remote-friendly policies open up and a myriad of other factors. 

However, I don’t want to argue for one setup over the other. Honestly, I’m not even qualified to do so. What I want to focus on is how firms who’ve decided to call workers back to the office can do so without making them quit or irreversibly damaging their morale. 

The most obvious move is to do like Evan Spiegel and appeal to their sense of corporate pride and commitment to their company’s performance. The big problem is that most employees only care about their company’s performance as far as it affects their own private quality of life. If they’re unhappy about coming back to the office in the first place, they’ve likely reasoned that the potential monetary rewards of a more productive workplace are not as important as whatever they like about remote work. This tactic might work for startups grinding towards the big payoff of going public, or in a country like Japan where people work for the same firm their entire lives, but not in the North American utility field. 

Luckily, you don’t have to pitch returning to the office as an act of selflessness.There is a growing body of research that gives reason to believe that office work benefits workers in a number of ways beyond productivity. 

A recent study conducted by professors from Rutgers and Wayne State University indicates that a daily commute has profound mental health benefits for the worker. The basic idea is that the commute provides an important period of “liminal space”, which they explain as: “a time free of both home and work roles that provides an opportunity to recover from work and mentally switch gears to home.” 

The opposite of liminal space, which doesn’t yet have a name, is what plagues many home workers. You technically finish your work day, but your brain doesn’t realize it.  This is called “role blurring” and the authors of the study warn that it can lead to burnout. 

I can’t say I’ve ever been truly burned out, however I have noticed something like what they call role blurring before. I finish a long day of work at home and then struggle to enjoy my evening leisure time. I can’t focus on the documentary I’m watching or savor my dinner. It feels like I’m putting something off even though I know I’m not. 

I think the benefits of liminal space and the dangers of role blurring are much more poignant persuasion tools than the company’s bottom line. Younger generations of talented workers are less interested in self sacrifice than previous ones. They prioritize comfort, deep experiences, and mental health. If you can convince them that the office holds the key to all three, you’ll be golden.


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