Big tech and financial companies want workers back, even if it’s not good for business

Welcome to the machine. Photo by Tayfun CoÅkun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As the pandemic recedes, some of America’s largest companies have decided to waive the option of work from home.

Major tech companies, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, have announced that by summer they want their employees to be in the office at least three days a week, in a hybrid model. Meanwhile, financial firms, like Goldman Sachs, are ordering employees to report on the traditional five days a week.

But is it really better for companies to have employees in the office rather than working remotely? The research is mixed.

A 2015 study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics suggested that employees who work from home are 13% more productive than those in the office. The findings are based on an experiment conducted by Ctrip, a NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency with 16,000 employees. Call center employees who volunteered to participate in the research were randomly assigned either to work in the office for nine months or to work from home.

However, with this increased productivity can come a loss of collaboration and creativity.

A study published in Nature Human Behavior in January this year found that when employees work from home, they are less likely to communicate with each other. This could lead to a loss of creativity, said Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School who was not involved in the Nature study.

“In terms of productivity, remote work is very good,” Galinsky said. “We have known that for years. People working remotely are not distracted by other people. They don’t get tired of commuting. Life is simple.”

But, Galinsky said, “We also know from research that there is a direct cost to socializing and identifying with the company. From a company perspective, employees are can -be more productive, but they do not have a shared experience with their colleagues and do not develop a better identification and a better attachment to the organization.

Employees with a deep connection to their employer mean they are more willing to sacrifice themselves for the company and less likely to pursue other jobs.

Plus, when it comes to creativity, “there’s the benefit of collaboration,” Galinsky said. “In the office, employees can stop by other people’s desks and share ideas and develop them.”

Informal interactions, such as chance encounters at the the water cooler, can spark new ideas, said Nellie Brown, director of occupational health and safety programs at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations. “There’s also a lot of difference when you communicate only by email, as opposed to informal, face-to-face communication,” she added.

While it makes sense for tech companies that want to drive innovation to have employees in the office, there isn’t the same rationale for financial companies, Galinsky said. “It’s funny that financial companies are the most averse to remote work when their jobs are the easiest to do remotely,” he said.

Galinsky doesn’t think the best situation is to have everyone in the office five days a week. “When you look at the literature on innovation, it’s clear that the best sequence starts with a period when people are alone in coming up with new ideas. Then they reflect with others, without criticism. Later, colleagues can begin to critically evaluate ideas. »

While it’s okay for senior employees to come two to three days a week, junior employees are better off coming four days a week, Galinsky said. This way they can be supervised and socialized, he added. “There should also be one day a week when everyone is in the office,” Galinsky said. “With this structure, the company can benefit from both remote work and innovation.”

Brown also has concerns about the younger staff. Research has shown that working entirely online can come at a cost, she explained. A study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles with teenagers found that their ability to read body language and emotions can suffer when interactions don’t happen in person.

Many employees are loath to give up remote work, and with the shortage of workers in today’s market, they may have more leverage to negotiate with their employers, Galinsky said. “Historically, remote workers were seen as more productive, but they had less status because they weren’t there for meetings, before meetings, and after meetings,” he added. “But now remote work is seen more as a perk that you can negotiate.”

Big tech and financial companies want workers back, even if it's not good for business

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