remote work, work from home

Battle Between Employers And Employees Over Office Return Continues

The matter of whether the commute to and from work counts as part of the work day is putting companies across the U.S. in an endless war over a return to the office.

Fortune reports a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) pinpoints two big disconnects between managers and workers who are holding up efforts to return to the office. First, workers believe eliminating the morning commute leads to greater productivity because it gives them more time to work instead of spending time commuting. Second, workers do not understand the difficulties managers face leading a remote workforce.

Both sides make valid points. Jose Maria Barrero, one of the researchers for the paper, told Fortune accounting for commute time is a “big deal” when assessing the effectiveness of remote work, and the data backs it up. Nearly 86% of respondents told Barrero they’re more productive working from home, adding it saves time and money and is one of their favorite reasons for working from home. Working from home also leaves more time for employees to conduct other activities, including childcare.

According to data from Clever Real Estate, each year the average American spends almost $8,500 and more than 200 hours traveling to and from work, meaning those who work from home save 31% more money and 20% more time than the pre-pandemic days.

On the other side of the coin, managers, particularly senior managers, are worried about the effect remote work has on company culture. According to the paper, managers fear working from home reduces opportunities for training and upskilling among newer workers, which could have a domino effect on company productivity of up to 20%, according to the researchers.

“Supervising, training, mentoring, and building firm culture is much harder” with fully remote workers than with workers who come in once to twice a week. Barrero told Fortune previously. Managers say remote work can lead to issues in communication and building relationships among workers.

Additionally, managers said remote work has given them more responsibilities than they had before COVID, leaving them burned out. Business Insider reports almost half of managers said their company went through restructuring in 2023 and many noted budget cuts at their organizations have left them saddled with more work, new workflows, and tighter budgets.

Managers have also been forced to figure out how to oversee a virtual team and other responsibilities they did not have before the pandemic.

Experts believe that a hybrid schedule, where workers come in once or twice a week is the best option as it gives workers and managers a chance to come into the office for face-to-face interactions and the ability to save time and money from commuting.

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