At this point we’ve heard just about every reason for why trekking back to our fluorescent-lit desks is the only way to go: Returning to the office will make employees more productive. They will feel more connected to their work, their colleagues, and the company. Being at the office will improve young workers’ career prospects, stave off layoffs, quell inflation, and strengthen the very committed commitment U.S. companies have promised they’ll make to diversify their workforces.
This debate—should we or shouldn’t we go back to the office—is frustratingly tired. Especially when you consider that the number of people working from home tripled from 2019 (9 million) to 2021 (27.6 million), according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data. And yet the RTO zealots are still arguing for a return to the before times even as their employees continue to flout mandates. Are leaders unaware that even pre-pandemic workers hated their arduous commutes to offices where they sat in stiff chairs, looking at drab carpet, maneuvering untoward office politics?
Is simply picking up where we left off 18 months ago really the best option we have for the future of work? The pandemic disrupted our lives in so many ways and offered us a generational opportunity to change the parts of our lives that simply didn’t work before. And yet the people in positions of power seemingly have no interest in disrupting the status quo. The greatest innovation to this point has been hybrid work, a tepid attempt to satisfy all parties that just results in everyone still spending their days on Zoom.