Bosses Push Back on WFH Die-Hards: ‘They Will Need to Show Up’

This article from written by Gretchen Tarrant analyzed the work from home phenomenon and market trend in the industry. The disadvantage of working from home and the need of working face to face is discussed in detail.

Office attendance is slumping again and bosses have a warning: We are a worse company when you stay home. 

In buildings across 10 major U.S. cities, office occupancy has fallen back below 50% for the past three weeks, according to Kastle Systems, which tracks security swipes into offices. The drop comes despite new return-to-office mandates that affect more than 600,000 workers and counting.

Hundreds of Wall Street Journal readers—many of them bosses and team leaders—responded to our story on the workers who say “it’s not my responsibility” to save the office economy. These bosses say employees who insist they are more productive while working from home are missing the larger picture: Team productivity is taking a hit.

The purpose of an office is to create a dynamic environment where people feed off one another’s energy, bond on a personal level and explore ideas in unstructured ways, many company leaders said. Remote work can’t provide those kinds of casual interactions that build culture and camaraderie, they say, which means it is worse for the organization and, in many cases, individual careers, too.

“Team collaboration really is much better and more effective with actual face time. Career growth also,” said William McNamara, a hiring manager who lives in Bellevue, Wash. “Sure, zealots will claim you can do it all remotely, but you can’t do it all as effectively for everyone, remotely.” 

Still, work-life balance is a vital piece of company culture—one that workers say is helped by the option to work from home, at least part of the time. That leaves bosses to strike a difficult balance, something they are more keenly aware of than their employees might realize. 

“We are stuck. Remote work means remote engagement. In-office means less flexibility,” said John Hayes, founder of Blackney Hayes Architects, a Philadelphia-based firm. 

John Hayes, founder of Blackney Hayes Architects, asks employees to do their jobs from the office at least two days a week. PHOTO: JOHN HAYES JR

Eavesdropping as education

Bosses say that developing young workers and new hires is a priority, and that it’s tougher and slower to accomplish it when people aren’t gathered together in offices. Structured training sessions can often be conducted via Zoom, but the daily rhythms of mentoring and learning on the job require a less-structured exchange of questions and answers that happen organically. 

“Eavesdropping is a huge form of education,” Hayes said. “Hearing what other people are saying, how they’re dealing with problems.”

Blackney Hayes asks employees to do their jobs from the office at least two days a week, but doesn’t mandate the face time because so many workers have said they prize flexibility.  

“If leadership and all the energy radiate from the office, then people will understand that if they want to be part of the team they will need to show up,” Hayes said.

Jenny von Podewils, co-chief executive of Leapsome, an HR productivity and engagement platform, has taken a similar approach in the hopes of boosting young workers’ professionalism, such as appropriate conversations with colleagues and how to present in client meetings. Without office time, newer staff members take longer to get up to speed—if they catch up at all.

“Learning doesn’t happen on Zoom calls. It happens during meetings, together, through body language, listening to how people approach certain situations,” she said. 

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