Seattle U. professor: Employers need to rethink demand of in-person work

Jul 4, 2023, 6:30 AM | Updated: 10:39 am

amazon workers walkout...

Amazon workers participate in a walkout from Amazon headquarters. (Kate Stone/KIRO Newsradio)

(Kate Stone/KIRO Newsradio)

During the pandemic, employees across the country learned how to function in a virtual world.

The biggest change was working remotely.

What was discovered is working online has some major advantages.

During that time, people who could do their job remotely did. Many workers grew to love the convenience.

Now that the pandemic emergency is officially over, companies want employees back in the office. Even though they seemed to adapt well, bosses want their teams back and working face to face.

Some big companies like Amazon and Google met resistance and faced walkouts in response.

Amazon workers at Seattle headquarters participated in a walkout on May 31, as employee organizers in response to the company’s newly implemented return-to-office mandate and environmental policies.

Looking at the ‘why’

Jack Kelly, CEO of recruiting firm WeCruitr and a senior contributor for Forbes magazine, detailed reasons managers want their workers back.

“When your manager sees you, he feels that you’re being productive, even if you’re just searching Amazon for bargain deals,” Kelly wrote.

But, professor Joe Barnes from Seattle University’s Albers Business School said employers need to rethink their position.

“I think businesses need to look at more than just people being in the office,” Barnes said. “If productivity is an issue with a worker, that’s a single employee issue, not a company-wide issue.”

Companies need to avoid sweep judgments

Barnes, a management expert, said businesses need to try to avoid sweeping judgments about employees. They need to make decisions based on every situation. He added that every company is unique.

“The point is, why does a business want people in the office three to four days a week? And what kind of job and culture is involved?” Barnes said. “If somebody’s just writing code, does it matter where they work? Or is it an edict to be in the office?”

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Barnes said businesses need to trust employees.

“For example, I’m a college professor. When I’m not in class or having office hours, does it make a difference where I’m doing class prep and grading?”

Employers believe that having employers face-to-face can help morale and raise productivity.

“I think the advantage certainly is being able to catch up and have those informal conversations. ‘How is your weekend?’ Or ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ I think that brings people together,” Barnes explained. “So, whether it’s in person, or online, I think that casual times are important. If people are working remotely, I would schedule coffee and catch-up time. Schedule time to celebrate personal endeavors. Because all of that creates better teamwork.”

Middle managers sometimes have other motivations

Writing for Forbes, Kelly said: “The job of middle and senior managers is to crack the whip and ensure everyone is earning their pay. Many supervisors enjoy the power they lord over you. It makes them feel big and important.”

So say you have a job you believe functions well remotely. But now your boss wants you in the office.

“The employee always has control. The employee has a choice,” Barnes said. “They can either say yes, or they can find another job. It’s not prison. So, if an employee is so unhappy with a business, about being told they have to work X number of days in the office, and they disagree, the employee has choices.”

Kelly also noted there are advantages of remote work for companies. One is the rising cost of real estate.

Jason Rantz: Amazon should fire employees threatening walkout

All this being said, it is not only the bosses that want workers back. Many miss their friends and miss the camaraderie of being together with their friends in the same space. Also, some would argue it’s easier to leave work behind at the end of the day while working in an office.

The debate on remote work will likely continue for a long time. Professor Barnes believes a company should analyze what’s best for the workplace and the worker.

“Remote work isn’t right for everyone. Some people need to be around other people, the casual conversations, bumping into each other and talking to each other. Those have value,” Barnes said. “But there’s a way to remotely to set up systems so that those casual conversations can happen. They just have to be scheduled, it can’t just be about work.”

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Seattle U. professor: Employers need to rethink demand of in-person work