Diversity & Inclusion, Learning & Development, Recruiting

6 Reasons Silicon Valley’s Return-to-Work Policies Are Harming Employees

Over in Silicon Valley, the world of work is changing. This time, however, it’s not changing in a groundbreaking way, as you might expect. 

Instead, many companies are looking backward in their remote working policies to before the pandemic. Although they publicly embraced flexible working over the past few chaotic years, almost on a whim, many of these companies are now implementing return-to-work policies. 

This switch has not been received well by many employees. Due to a lack of consistent messaging regarding these remote working policies, many companies now find themselves at odds with their workforce, especially as remote employees are reluctantly scrambling to readapt to the old way of doing things. 

The statistics don’t lie. After having experienced remote work for the first time, more than 8 out of 10 employees have reported being open and favorable to working from home, either part time or full time.

Should Companies Sustain Remote-Work Policies Long-Term?

At TheSoul Publishing, flexibility in how our team approaches our work is nothing new. We’re a remote-first company, and we’ve always made it possible for staff to work from wherever they like, even before the pandemic. This adaptability is fundamental to TheSoul’s business model and our very existence—it is ingrained in the fabric of our business. 

For instance, we do not see it as a “privilege” to work from home. It’s a cornerstone of TheSoul’s operations.

From our vast experience with this new way of working, we can see an incredible number of benefits for employees when a company consistently sustains a remote work policy. These benefits for employees are what Silicon Valley is missing out on.

Company leaders may feel that return-to-work policies will improve and secure a long-term company culture. And they could be right. 

At TheSoul, we don’t have all the answers. We’re learning as we go along, seeing what works and pivoting toward that.

That said, we can see some clear dangers of these hasty return-to-work plans that Silicon Valley companies need to consider:

The Harm to Employees From Return-to-Work Policies

1. Quiet Quitting Is on the Rise

The phrase “quiet quitting” isn’t simply a trendy buzzword. It describes something that has been occurring for a very long time: when employees take a step back from their work, do the bare minimum to get paid, and clock out at the end of the day.

It’s not just “lazy” employees who are using the strategy. There is usually a reason behind an employee’s lack of engagement, such as:

  • Not being challenged enough
  • Too much assigned work
  • Not feeling their work is valued
  • Not feeling respected as an individual by the organization.

Employees who are happy with their work and feel valued are more likely to stay with a company. It’s as simple as that.

On the other hand, if a company goes back and forth in its messaging over whether remote working is acceptable, employees may feel disrespected because their autonomy is cut, even if their productivity has never been higher while working remotely.

As a result, companies must continue to at least provide remote working as an option. If they need more convincing, they only have to note that the majority of today’s employees (74%) said they would be less likely to hunt for a new job if they had the option to work permanently from home.

2. Lack of Consistency Shatters Employee-Employer Trust

Related to the lack of respect that mandatory return-to-work messages provide, companies can further damage morale and productivity by sending inconsistent messages to employees.

Many companies, including Epic Games, implemented remote work by letting employees work from home. However, it ensured to clarify that this was only a temporary solution and that employees would be required to return to the office at a later date.

Compared with other Silicon Valley companies, Epic Games kept its messaging consistent. Doing so ensured employees felt informed and did not make significant life decisions based on the new remote working policy. 

For instance, many Tesla employees sold their cars and moved across the country, as they were told they could work remotely.

Now that the company has announced a mandatory return-to-work policy, employees are left in the difficult situation of having to relocate or quit.

When workers join TheSoul, they instantly become a part of a close-knit team that can always count on each other. The trust of our remote workers would be jeopardized if we suddenly required them to relocate to offices. Additionally, doing so would be in direct opposition to the values of our organization.

3. Long-Term Employee Engagement Decreases

Remote working has been proven to help increase employee engagement levels. 

More specifically, employees who work remotely are more likely to stay with the company for a long time than those who do not. This is because remote workers have a greater sense of autonomy, which increases their engagement level and makes them feel like they have more control over their lives.

By removing the remote working option, employees feel less in control and begin to engage less with work tasks in order to cope with the loss of autonomy.

4. Disrupting Employee Work/Life Balance Leads to Subpar Work

Employees who work remotely are less likely to experience burnout and are more productive than their counterparts. This productivity boost is linked to the increased flexibility of their schedules. 

Working from home makes it easier to juggle other duties, such as getting the children ready for school, running errands, taking an early morning online workout session, and being home to receive a package. 

By having the freedom to balance work with the daily stresses of life, employees can work at times that suit them, increasing the quality of their work overall.

Put simply, when done right, remote work allows employees and their employers to focus on what matters: getting things done.

Yet, for Silicon Valley companies adopting return-to-work policies, the harm they cause their employees is multiplied, as these are individuals who have adjusted their entire lives to this new way of working. 

As a result, being told to completely readjust once again is a big ask, given the personal strain it may cause. For example, new childcare arrangements may need to be made, and a partner’s work schedule may need to be changed.

The knock-on effects are massive. It’s not just the individual who suffers, but also their family.

5. Commuting Reduces Productivity (and Well-Being)

The healthier and happier employees are at work and home, the more able and inclined they are to work harder.

It has been shown that one way to improve workers’ emotional and physical well-being is to reduce their commuting time. With remote working eliminating this entirely, the results are amplified.

Regarding physical well-being, on average, U.S. commuters spend about an hour every day traveling to and from work. That doesn’t sound too terrible. 

However, when you learn that daily commutes of 10 miles or more are linked to health problems such as depression and high blood sugar levels, you start to take notice.

By sticking with remote working policies, Silicon Valley companies would eliminate these damaging commutes for employees and contribute to their healthy work/life balance.

Employees may be able to use the extra hours to sleep, spend time with loved ones, work out, or better care for themselves and their families.

That’s much more difficult when return-to-work employees now have to factor in travel time.

6. Decreased Inclusivity and Diversity 

Sustained remote working practices increase inclusivity and diversity in workplaces, which has wide-ranging benefits for employees, the company, and the world.

In addition to being ethically important, embracing these important aspects encourages talent who cannot commute to work for various reasons, including having a disability, to apply for positions.

Expanding this further, improving an organization’s workforce diversity is more difficult to achieve when hiring is confined to a single location that not everyone wants to or can afford to be near.

If Silicon Valley companies continued to eliminate in-person attendance, they would be in a stronger position to better embrace diversity and inclusion by hiring people worldwide. This includes those from various socioeconomic statuses, geographic locations, and cultural backgrounds. 

As a result, they would scale much quicker and improve the entire organization by employing workers from across the world. Remote working increases diversity of thought and is especially important for global companies, as a diverse workforce can provide unique perspectives never before considered.

Aleksandra Sulimko is CHRO at TheSoul Publishing. She oversees the HR department, bringing her strong level of expertise to help strengthen this function within day-to-day operations. At the same time, her team supports each business division to improve employee well-being, empowerment, and development.

Sulimko joined TheSoul Publishing from Exness, an international, award-winning financial brokerage company. At Exness, she implemented employee learning programs and focused on personal career development across all company levels. Before that, Sulimko held roles devoted to organizational consulting, employee career path training, and coaching at Team Training International and Japan Tobacco International (JTI).

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