Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Not ready to return to offices
Anxiety? Fear? Some workers would rather stay home after a year of working remotely
A year after the pandemic forced tens of millions of people to start working from home, disrupting family lives and derailing careers, employers are now getting ready to bring workers back to offices.
But for some people, the prospect of returning to their desks is provoking anxiety, dread and even panic rather than relief.
Martin Jaakola, a software engineer in Minneapolis, never wants to go back to the office and is willing to quit if the medical device company he works for says he must.
“I can’t honestly say that there’s anything about the office that I miss,” Jaakola, 29, said.
People like Jaakola say last year proves that people do not need to sit cheek by jowl to be productive. Working at home is superior, they say, because they are not wasting hours in traffic or on crowded trains. And they do not have to worry about getting sick to boot.
These people are not on the same wavelength as David Solomon, the Goldman Sachs chief executive, who in February called remote work “an aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible.”
Yet many companies are falling over themselves to appeal to office-reluctant workers.
Salesforce says its work-from-anywhere approach would “unlock new growth opportunities” and “drive greater equality.” Spotify describes its flexible work policy as a “jewel in our Talent Attraction crown.”
Target, Ford Motor Co. and PricewaterhouseCoopers say they are going to let office workers work remotely more frequently. Even Wall Street banks where employees often while away hours at their desks to be seen by the boss are preaching the gospel of flexibility. JPMorgan Chase is telling some workers they can cycle in and out of the office.
Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor who studies human interaction, has been advising financial firms, consumer products businesses and universities. She said many executives were spooked that they will lose their best people if they are not flexible.
But she said some managers might now be going too far. Teams need to get together to get stuff done.
“Just because we’ve managed to weather this storm doesn’t mean it’s an optimal way to work,” Edmondson said.
But many employees said the pandemic gave them free time they do not want to give up.
Several people said they felt less beat down because they were not spending time in cars and on trains or buses.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of people eager to return to the office, especially younger workers who feel they have more to lose by being away.
Sheeta Verma, 21, a recent graduate, was hired early last year before the pandemic shut down the offices of the tech firm Neurable, based in Boston.
“Being the youngest in the office, I don’t get to connect with my colleagues, and it’s important that I connect to get to know them, understand their mindset, how they learn and how they grew their careers,” Verma said.
Yet even Verma wants her employer, who has not yet set a date for a broad return of employees to the office, to let her work from home some of the time.