Bosses are fed up with remote work for 4 main reasons. Some of them are undeniable

The golden age of remote work seems to be coming to an end. The Wall Street Journal reports that even tech companies (the first industry that told employees they could work from home forever just a few years ago) are bringing engineers and project managers back to the office. Business blogger Kevin Drum, formerly of Mother Jonestook note of the increase in anti-distance literature and made a bold prediction about the future of work: East none. It won’t be much different than it ever was. That’s because the remote work revolution just isn’t going to materialize.

“Companies that support [remote work] for a long time have finally had enough and are tired of [it]”, wrote Drum on Sunday. The reason is quite simple: working outside the office “is simply not as productive as office work, no matter what remote workers say. Too much evidence has accumulated to credibly deny this any longer.

He pointed to back-to-office surges at tech companies where most jobs could be remote, particularly Salesforce, Google and Meta. Then he highlighted four key pieces of evidence, although asterisks abound. Still, Drum is worth listening to on this: With the likes of Brad DeLong and Ta-Nehisi Coates, it thrived in the days of Old West blogging, and in Mother Jones and independently, he has shown an aptitude for paying attention to what the data is saying on big economic topics and cutting through the noise.

For his part, Drum expects most of the private sector to return to work in the physical sense. “There was remote work before the pandemic and there will be a little more after the pandemic,” he wrote. “But it’s going to be measured in a small handful of percentage points, not as a revolution in work.” Drum, who since his departure Mother Jones in 2021 blogged twice a day from his home in Orange County, Calif. did not respond to Fortunerequest for comment.

Most remote workers insist they won’t go back to their dreary office lunches, and many companies still promise they’ll never resume again, but maybe they should heed Drum’s warning. Here’s why the tide is turning against remote working (rightly or wrongly).

#1: Remote work is bad for new hires and junior employees

This one isn’t as controversial as it sounds. Especially when you’re new to work, being physically present can be a huge benefit; even so-called anti-office Gen Z workers recognize the overwhelming truth of this.

“We know empirically that [new Salesforce employees] do better if they’re in the office, meeting people, getting onboarded, getting trained,” CEO Marc Benioff said in March. “If they’re at home and not going through that process, we don’t think they’re doing as well.”

It could also harm businesses; a recent Paychex survey found that 80% of new hires will leave a job if they had a poor onboarding experience, which is much more likely to be the case if they are onboarded remotely.

Nearly a third of employees told Paychex that they found their onboarding experience confusing. This figure rose to 36% for remote workers, who were most likely to feel undertrained, disoriented, and devalued after onboarding, compared to their in-person counterparts.

As an entry-level product manager, Drum wrote, “I can’t even imagine what it would have been like trying to learn what I needed to know if everyone I had to work with were only available via Zoom or phone or Mou. It’s one thing for existing teams to continue to work well from home; it’s quite another to put together a new member of a team.

That’s a shame, because proximity bias poses a lasting threat to career advancement. But trying to get around while staying at home as an entry-level worker means you’ll be swimming against the tide.

#2: Workers admit remote work (sometimes) causes more problems than in-person work

When executed incorrectly, hybrid work plans can create discordant and unproductive teamwork. This is especially true when teams make no effort to align their days in the office.

Plus, working remotely has its fair share of downsides. Drum returned to McKinsey’s research he highlighted in his “remote work mid-term report” from December, which found that remote workers are significantly more likely to report mental health issues and physical and hostile work environments. That’s not the worst: 60% of bosses recently admitted that if they had to cut jobs, they would come and get their teleworkers first.

Usually, Stanford economics professor and remote working expert Nick Bloom said Fortunecompanies screw up these kinds of plans because they fundamentally misunderstand Why people want to work in person or remotely in the first place. The disaster scenario, in which too many companies find themselves, is when everyone has to come two days a week or so, without more clarity.

“Then they come in and realize their team is home, which defeats the purpose,” Bloom said. “They didn’t come to use the ping-pong table, and there’s no point in just coming in to shout at Zoom all day.” Additionally, Bloom, who advocates organized hybrid arrangements, agrees with pro-office fanatic Benioff that new workers need the office the most.

#3: Remote workers set in 3.5 hours less per week compared to in-person workers

Sure, it’s true that remote workers run errands, exercise, and do laundry between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., but how much? A working paper submitted to the National Bureau of Economic Research in January found that remote workers around the world save an average of 72 minutes a day simply by avoiding their commute, and that on average, of that time saved, 40% are spent on extra work.

Drum is unconvinced of the effects in America, as is the federal government’s data set.

For his part, Drum sees a 3.5 hour drop in hours worked, and he got the figure from an October 2022 report by Liberty Street Economics, an arm of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Researchers David Dam, Davide Melcangi, Laura Pilossoph and Aidan Toner-Rodgers performed calculations based on the American Time Use Survey, a nationally representative Bureau of Labor Statistics survey that measures both the time people spend on various activities and where the activities occur. In a damning chart, they found that remote workers “decrease the time spent working” and instead increase their time spent on “leisure and sleep”. The graph clearly showed an increase of about between three and hours of time spent on things that, well, don’t work.

Perhaps in the rest of the world workers are taking time off from commuting and putting it back into work, but the government’s own data in the United States tells a different story. A story of 3.5 hours less.

#4: Productivity drops on days when everyone is working remotely (for the record)

In March, Drum wrote an article highlighting what the CEO of an HR tech company told the the wall street journal: On days when his team works remotely, the number of new subscribers drops by 30%. But that’s just an anecdote; even Drum himself says the stat is amazing – “if [the CEO] do not exagerate.”

A strong piece of data in Drum’s favor here is the shocking drop in productivity for five consecutive quarters, unprecedented in the post-war period. EY-Parthenon chief economist Gregory Daco said Fortune that he has heard similar stories from clients in all industries of “reduced productivity due to the new work environment”. Daco added that remote work is only one piece of the puzzle here. “The difficulty is that there is no magic wand of productivity.”

Other experts are more skeptical. “What I suspect is that if you spent all of your time at work talking about the Super Bowl, politics, your weekend, etc., working from home would involve more actual work minutes. [than working in an office]“said Bloom, the remote work evangelist The wealth Tristan Bove.

The workers themselves certainly do not agree on this point. According to a recent Pew Research survey, remote workers (particularly parents and caregivers) have a better work-life balance and are more productive and focused. According to an October 2022 survey of white-collar workers from Slack’s think tank, Future Forum, those with full schedule flexibility showed 29% higher productivity scores than employees with no flexibility at all, and workers remote and hybrids reported 4% higher productivity than their full-station counterparts.

Respondents to the Pew survey acknowledged that being out of the office can hurt their opportunities for advancement, mentorship and connection, but believe they are more productive.

But the tide is turning for many reasons, and whether workers think they’re more productive remotely or actually are, they may not really have a choice in the matter.

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