With companies beginning to call workers back to their cubicles after 15 months of working from home, some people are realizing they don't want to return to an office five days a week.
A recent survey discovered 87% of people who've been working remotely during the pandemic would prefer to keep working from home at least one day a week, and 42% say if their employer doesn't continue to offer an option to work from home, they'll quit and find a job for a company that does allow it.
Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist and author who teaches at Duke's Fuqua School of Business, isn’t surprised. Working from home drastically cut down on commute times, which in turn gave workers chunks of their days back and boosted happiness, she says.
Remote work has also enabled employees who might not like their coworkers or managers space to de-escalate any tensions that would come with working face-to-face in the office, she says.
The current work landscape is still in a murky transition period. Since new norms have not been set in stone yet and employers are still navigating uncharted territory, workers may have more leverage than they think when asking for some, or all, remote work days, Clark says.
Even if an employer sets what seems to be a universal office return policy, she says valued employees — whether it be workers with political capital, workers in critical roles, etc. — may wield the upper hand when negotiating work-from-home accommodations.
But don't just up and quit, she writes in the Harvard Business Review. First, initiate a conversation with your manager about your concerns.
Studies show half to a quarter of workers are strongly considering quitting their jobs post-pandemic, she notes. Employers, concerned about high employee turnover, will likely be motivated to “bend over backward” to keep their esteemed workers, she says.
“If you were an employer and you have a wave of employees that are thinking of quitting, beginning to put in notice, it can really create a panic,” Clark says. “And so it gives employees much more leverage than they would normally have. They don't want you to go.”
Even if an employee is in the driver’s seat, drawing up a solid argument for remote work and starting the conversation with a manager may seem tricky and nerve-wracking.
“The first thing to keep in mind is if you really are unsure if you want to leave or if you would like to stay if certain conditions could be met, then you owe it to yourself and you owe it to your employer to at least give them the opportunity to meet those needs,” she says.
Approach your manager with your needs in a constructive way, Clark suggests, outlining that you would like to continue working for the company. Avoid starting the conversation in an angry manner or using ultimatums, she says, “but instead come to the table as a collaborative partner.”
Many burnt-out workers feel stagnant and are reconsidering their priorities, such as John P. Dessereau, who was a DJ before the pandemic hit.
He decided that instead of returning to DJing or other service jobs, he would take a chance on doing something he loves — illustrating.
“Illustration and artwork had always been a passion of mine, and while DJing was fun, I felt it was important to make a shift,” Dessereau says. “The world was so scary during the pandemic that it forced me to sit and think about what I really wanted to be doing.”
In lockdown, he used his free time to build up a network of art directors and editors who could consider him for hire. He now has a portfolio of illustrations that have been featured in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and The New York Times.
DJing late at night and being surrounded by drunk people wore him down, Dessereau says. Channeling his passion for the arts into a full-time job jives with what Clark gives as a critical piece of advice for workers looking to make a move.
“Be the captain of your own career,” she says.
This segment aired on June 28, 2021.