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Refusing to return to the office: Workplace trends, March 2022

Plus the hybrid office takeaways from Columbia Business School's redesigned classrooms.

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This story was published on our The Memo from Quartz at Work newsletter, Practical advice for modern workers everywhere.
  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

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To modern workers everywhere,

In some parts of the world where covid-19 cases are dropping, it’s starting to feel like the end of the pandemic is in sight, giving more companies cover to recall workers to the office. But after two years at home and the experience of a different, more flexible work life, do we want to go back? And do we have to?

For employees in some countries that have passed specific “work from home” laws, the answer may actually be no. Spain and Portugal both introduced legislation during the pandemic designed to protect workers’ rights to work from home, and to curb companies’ ability to contact them outside specific work hours. Since the laws haven’t been tested yet in a post-pandemic situation, it’s not clear how well they’ll work either at allowing employees to maintain flexible working indefinitely or, on the other side, letting companies function efficiently.

In the US, UK, and many other countries, however, there is no such protection. Unless people were hired specifically to work from home—for example during the pandemic, with home working as part of their employment contract—then they are probably obliged to work from a designated workplace for at least part of the time, should their employers insist on it.

Employees with mental or physical impairments might be able to demand that their employers “engage in an interactive dialogue regarding reasonable accommodations,” said Domenique Camacho Moran, an employment attorney at law firm Farrell Fritz in New York. But remote work, she notes, “is not always [considered] a reasonable accommodation.”

Going straight to our legal rights, however, is a jump. Employment, after all, is based on relationships, and any employer should be cognizant that maintaining good relations with employees is one of the most vital ways to retain people and keep them motivated. This should be top of mind for US firms particularly, since the US is seeing record quitting rates and positions going unfilled across many sectors of the economy.

In a best-case scenario, deciding on a job’s mix of in-person time and remote working will come down not to a rule but to a dialogue. Blanketing an entire organization with the same edict—for example, to be physically present for eight hours a day, Monday to Friday—feels like a vestige of the pre-pandemic world. It is one end of a spectrum, and therefore grounds for a negotiation.—Cassie Werber

Poll: How keen are you to return to the office?

I can’t wait to re-find that five-day-week groove

I’m looking forward to reconnecting, on a schedule of my choosing

I’m waking up in a cold sweat at the thought of the commute

Office shmoffice, I’ll be working from my cabin for the foreseeable future

Sponsor content by Accenture
Sponsor content by  Accenture
Today, more than ever, purpose has risen to the top of leadership agendas. Leaders and change makers are sparking disruption and challenging all of us to step up to help shape a more equitable future. This means a willingness to have the hard conversations – being open to listen and being committed to act. Listen now and get uncomfortable with Jimmy Etheredge, CEO – Accenture, North America, and Emmanuel Acho, FS1 Sports Analyst & New York Times Bestselling Author and a host of unexpected guests, as they tackle tough topics that require our attention to ignite change.
Learn more

Five Things We Learned This Week

🇺🇦 There’s a big global effort to hire Ukrainians. Companies and academic institutions are listing thousands of opportunities, while several new sites have cropped up to collate them and help Ukrainians find a fit for their skills.

💭 Half of Americans are thinking about changing jobs. A new surveys from Prudential found that 22% of workers are actively looking for a new job and another quarter are considering moving, with many citing the desire for more flexibility.

Companies are feeling the pressure to take stands. Consumer demand and employee activism are combining to create a climate where companies can’t remain passive on issues like the war in Ukraine.

👓 Sudan has its first Y combinator startup. Bloom is a fintech attempt to tackle some of the country’s banking sector problems.

🩲 Rihanna’s new lingerie IPO could add a billion to her fortune. Savage by Fenty is mulling a $3 billion public listing.

30-Second Case Study

Long before the pandemic, when Columbia Business School started considering a $600 million redesign of its facilities, the designers were already starting to think about remote learning for international students, and the experience of guest lecturers dialing in. The model classroom they came up with makes even more sense in the wake of covid-19—and, as Quartz’s Anne Quito reports, it holds plenty of lessons for how to redesign collaboration space for a post-pandemic world.

  • Attend to sound quality. Trouble hearing what’s happening is the main complaint with remote meetings. Columbia’s architects tackled it with an array of different microphones and judicious soundproofing.
  • Give space to visuals. “If people are laying up videos and Zoom windows, they should be given the real estate to array that,” said one of the architects.
  • Simplify the tech. That sounds obvious, but in pre-pandemic spaces with audio/visual hookups, the experience wasn’t often smooth.

The takeaway: The imperatives presented by the pandemic have helped push through changes that would have greatly benefited some of us long ago. Physical spaces are still important, to which Columbia’s spending on brick and mortar will attest. But they need to work just as well for those who will never set foot inside them.

Quartz announcement
Quartz announcement
Balancing purpose with profit. Quartz is teaming up with B Lab U.S. & Canada to host a special conversation with leading B Corp CEOs as we discuss business as a force for good and the challenges they face. Join us for this free, virtual event on March 23, 1-2 pm ET.

Co-hosted by Zach Seward, CEO, Quartz and Jorge Fontanez, CEO, B Lab U.S. & Canada. You’ll hear from Alison Whritenour, CEO, Seventh Generation and more.
Register today.

Upcoming workshops

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Stay tuned for details on how to register for our next workshop, on March 31, on how to find mentorship anywhere.

One 🏢 thing

It isn’t just work-life balance needs that are preventing more people from wanting to go back to the office. There are macro considerations, too, from the price of gas to the rise in rents. Quartz’s Lila MacLellan lays out five of the structural headwinds that companies will be up against as they try to get more employees to return to their office space.

Sponsor content by Accenture
Sponsor content by  Accenture
Today, more than ever, purpose has risen to the top of leadership agendas. Leaders and change makers are sparking disruption and challenging all of us to step up to help shape a more equitable future. This means a willingness to have the hard conversations – being open to listen and being committed to act. Listen now and get uncomfortable with Jimmy Etheredge, CEO – Accenture, North America, and Emmanuel Acho, FS1 Sports Analyst & New York Times Bestselling Author and a host of unexpected guests, as they tackle tough topics that require our attention to ignite change.
Learn more

You Got The Memo!

Our best wishes for a productive and creative day. Please send any workplace news, remote negotiation tips, and optimized conference-room audio designs to work@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. This week’s edition of The Memo was produced by Cassie Werber, Anne Quito, and Heather Landy.

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