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  • Writer's pictureavocadots Design Studio

Working Online: The Return To The Office

Illustration: Curbed, Martin Gee

With most companies calling their employees back to the office, many are left wondering what they are doing there.

Following the departure of many high-profile executives last month, Apple rescinded its three-day-a-week return-to-work policy, which was set to take effect in late May. The corporation stated an increase in COVID-19 instances, but the underlying reason seemed to be that workers did not want to. (They're still obligated to come in twice a week, so COVID is a fairly weak justification for the policy change.) Apple is merely the most recent and high-profile corporation to realise that the three-day office week — that ostensibly reasonable-sounding middle ground in the era of remote working.

What is it about the three-day week that makes it so unappealing? Some employees are afraid about COVID, but as many have pointed out, the virus isn't stopping most of them from doing other tasks. "People are out and about, going to supper, going to the movies. "People are learning to live with COVID," Freedman explained. "What they appreciated was the freedom." And, while virus varieties and surges have been a convenient excuse for corporations looking to save face following employee revolts, it is now evident that COVID waves will likely continue to hit, thus we are bound for a return-to-work reckoning at some time. Companies will have to either call everyone back despite the illness or abandon the forced return.

Illustration: Paul Blow, The Economist

A common 2020 cliché was that Covid-19 amplified pre-existing tendencies. However, that is an inadequate representation of the tremendous disruption to office work. Prior to the epidemic, Americans spent 5% of their working time at home. By the spring of 2020, the figure had risen to 60%. The transition has gone more smoothly than planned. People are working longer hours, but they are happier and more productive as a result. Working from home is likely to become more common once lockdowns are lifted.

Particularly with avocadots, the Studio began its journey through endless Teams and Zoom meetings trying to setup our online business amidst the lockdowns and quarantines. As a result, our entire business model - and vision - revolves around the beauty of remote working. Our team is blooming online, and enjoying the flexibility and freedom of independent working hours and scheduling. In the wider industry however, things are once again shifting.

Those who wish to be remote are frustrated because they loved working from home and don't understand why, after two years of performing wonderful job, they must return to the office. People who couldn't wait to return are discovering empty workplaces and less facilities, not the same scenario they had before the outbreak. Those who prefer hybrid work — 60 percent of office workers — may not always obtain the contact with coworkers they would want.

There are several reasons why returning to the office isn't working. Bosses and workers have different ideas about what the workplace is for, and after more than two years of working remotely, everyone has created their own unique set of expectations about how they should use their time. As more knowledge workers return to the office, their work experience — their ability to focus, their stress levels, and their level of job satisfaction — has decreased. This is a liability for their employers, as the rates of job vacancies and quits in professional and business services are approaching record highs, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

With 70% of office workers globally already returning to work at least one day each week, the joy that many people had a few months ago is fading. For many, the novelty is giving way to an almost existential question: Why are we here at all?

Many are feeling like the first day of being back in school after the loong summer holidays. Similarly to the teacher-student dynamic, there's also a misunderstanding about why employees believe they've been summoned. Employees mention their company's sunk real estate investments, their bosses' demand for control, and the raison d'être of their middle management. Employers, on the other hand, believe that going to work is excellent for creativity, innovation, and culture development. According to Microsoft's Work Trends Index, over 80% of employees believe they have been just as or more productive than before the pandemic, but fewer than half of executives believe the same.

Moving Forward in the Digital Workspace

More than fancy amenities, free lunch, or even concerts, workers tend to want to know why they're returning after establishing that they can perform their jobs just fine from home for years. They demand an explanation for the melancholy desk salads, all the hours wasted travelling and dressing professionally.

Many of them are unsure if such things outweigh the enjoyable aspects of office life: the energy, the camaraderie, the banter and gossip. Or whether there will even be enjoyable aspects of office life with hybrid scheduling and COVID. For employees to embrace a three-day workweek, the office must resemble what it was before they departed.

Importantly, make sure you invest your hours and time doing something you love for a purpose you believe in. Time invested in projects which inspire you and others is time well spent - at least that's how we go about it!


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