It’s 7:30am as the rain pummels down on my office window. I’m settling in to write this article today, knowing my opinion is not a welcome one.
I grab my espresso, sit down at my desk, open my laptop and start reading today’s news, then move on to my emails, open Slack, and finally, review my calendar to make sure no surprise Zoom calls catch me with my messy mom bun.
I don’t look up from that all consuming laptop until 10am when I stretch my legs and stroll down to throw in a load of laundry.
What a weird profession I’m in. My entire livelihood is dependant on nothing more than having a computer screen in front of me. Wherever it goes, I can work.
I’m not the only one who realizes this. I recently went through a hiring spree where countless candidates refused an in person interview because they were looking for fully remote jobs. Some of them directly out of school, having never previously held a job in the industry.
I am floored by these attitudes.
Firefighters. Grocery store workers. Nurses. Production workers. Delivery drivers. Electricians. We need billions of people every day to show up to a physical location with regular hours so that our society functions.
But not computer workers. We are insisting that we simply can not exist without the freedom to work where and when we please. To set our own hours, to have shorter days, flexible hours, more benefits, less commute time.
So in response, corporations are giving us what we want, eliminating physical locations and scrapping office space in favour of your laptop and sofa. But has anyone considered the real motive for these decisions?
For example, AirBNB recently announced all employees will work from home, permanently. In 2020 they paid $113 million per year for the rental of their San Francisco head office alone. Do you really think the new policy is for the employees, or for their bottom line?
In the same breath that he announced the changes, CEO Brian Zelesky also stated, “The most meaningful connections happen in person. Zoom is great for maintaining relationships, but it’s not the best way to deepen them. And some creative work is best done in the same room.”
Closing offices is by far the most unhealthy solution that I can imagine.
The real price of remote work.
Yes, remote work is here to stay, and businesses have done an amazing job at adapting to this reality. Employees have also proven they can be reliable and productive at home.
But…there’s always a but.
People need other people. Period. And that connection is vitally important to our mental health. That isn’t just my opinion, it’s fact.
In one study of 1000 remote workers, the American Psychiatric Association found that the majority of stay at home workers experienced negative mental health impacts, including isolation, loneliness and difficulty getting away from work at the end of the day.
In a 2019 CBC article, written pre-pandemic, concerns were already starting to rise about the effects of loneliness and isolation on our mental health. Paula Allen, vice-president of research for Morneau Shepell stated “Isolation impacts everything with respect to health,” she says. “It impacts mental health, and the risk of depression, and it impacts anxiety and people’s personal well-being. It also impacts physical health. The strain that state puts on you has been associated with cardiovascular disease and immune system disease.”
Even more warnings come from former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy who calls loneliness an invisible epidemic—a health problem of unprecedented proportions.
Closing offices where people connect and make friends, yah, that seems like a great idea.
Location does matter.
Another trend has emerged from this remote demand. Corporations have discovered that if they don’t have offices, then why can’t they hire nationally, or even globally, allowing them to draw from a talent pool from anywhere in the world.
Does anyone else see a problem in competing for the same job as someone in say, Saskatoon? A place where the cost of living is cheaper and wages are lower? Or even a foreign country where the wage disparity is even more extreme, like India or China?
Who do you think a company is going to hire for that next tech job or marketing role: The person in Vancouver who wants $38 an hour and benefits, or the person in Thailand who wants $12 and is available six days a week?
Even if the exact same compensation is offered, you will now be competing with people from across the planet, not across the city. Corporations are being given free rein to churn people in and out of jobs without caring who does the work. They have access to 1000 more candidates if you don’t work out.
This road leads to nothing but a destruction of our local economy and increased profitability of corporations. Our demand for remote work is leading down a path where there are no take backs. Cities with low vacancy rates, struggling small businesses and soaring mental health issues.
I am begging companies. Do not move to remote business models. There is a better answer.
Don’t close offices. Create better ones.
Quite simply, I’m asking companies to become the type of place where people want to be.
We have the ability to create work environments where flexibility and connectivity are equally valued. As leaders, it’s our job to work harder and get creative about how to design offices where people can develop friendships, share ideas and learn leadership skills.
I believe it’s vitally important to the mental health of my employees that they come to the office, meet in person and have fun together. It’s not a coincidence that our office has a bar and communal lunch tables. We encourage people to gather.
But I also believe it’s equally important to allow people the freedom to fit their work life with their personal life. Give people the freedom to set their own schedules for appointments, family and travel plans. Give them days when they don’t have to commute, or give them the freedom to travel and work.
Employees have proven that they are productive remote workers. Business owners now have to prove that their offices can be spaces where connectivity comes first.
Closing offices and becoming fully remote is not the answer, but neither are bland corporate vibes and strict office hours. The key to maintaining a healthy, thriving community is going to lay with businesses who can create an attractive middle ground.
We need leaders brave enough to stand up and say that they are going to put people first, not just their bottom line.
Our community is a better place when people are connected, and it’s vitally important that businesses create an environment to make that happen. That’s why our office doors will remain open.
Ironically, I stayed home to write this article today. Not so ironically, I was lonely. This is not a sustainable, healthy way to approach work. I’m looking forward to being in the office tomorrow where personal connections, conversations, laughs, companionship, people skills and spontaneous creative ideas flourish. And that might even be at the bar.