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Why Remote Employees May Have to go Hybrid

Updated: Jul 05, 2022 09:27
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On the surface, hybrid work environments feel like a compromise. A mix of in-person meetings and a remote zoom work environment. Office snacks, face time, a change in environment, in-person connection, hallway conversations, and free lunch – are all things we’d get if we were back in the office. Sounds pretty – okay, I guess.

Remote employment has changed many lives for the better, for those who qualify. Productivity isn’t down, personal happiness is up. But for those who switched to remote work 2+ years ago, will we get to stay living as remote employees? Do we really have to compromise toward a hybrid work environment? Will we have a choice in whether we return to the office part-time in the future?

The shift in how we work in many new remote ways is the biggest change in work culture within our lifetime. That being said, it’s not as significant of a change as other major shifts (women coming into the labor force, desktop computers, switching from largely agricultural to the rise of machines…etc etc…)

Without years n years of data, it’s hard to say what impact this will have. That all being said, if you ask a remote employees to come back to the office, even if for only a couple of days a week, you’re taking away the one thing that trumps all office perks: their choice… and that might just mean you’ll lose an employee as well.

Tensions are rising between employees who want to stay telecommuting and employers who are hoping folks will come back so we can all get a little closer to “normal”. Many offices have started to suggest that employees come back in 2-3 days a week. Trying to ease remote employees back into the office with a hybrid option. But that might cost them their workforce. In a recent survey reported on CNBC says that

“64% of workers would consider quitting if asked to return to the office full-time”.

San Francisco Skyline In the background.

Why do people want to continue being remote employees so badly?

The benefits of telecommuting is different for every remote employee. Over the last 2 years, those of us who were forced into our own home offices and asked to navigate online-only office politics, we got used to that freedom of choice during our work day. Remote employees have more privacy in their own homes than in the office. They can take calls in their own “corner office with a view”. In pajamas or dressed up. It’s their choice. And many say that if they are not able to stay flexible, they will look for a job which allows them to continue their remote work-from-home lifestyle.

Personally, I’m more focused when I am working at home and I’m not as burnt out. I’m more able to spend time with my family and I’ve traded those 3 hours on a cramped BART car for art projects, writing, cooking… things that make me happy.

I don’t want to trade the happiness and balance I feel for a shit commute and less autonomy in my day. One person I spoke to told me,

“I’m not making an appearance just to show the lower half of my body.”

Another remote employee we interviewed said to me, “I spend so much of my time on calls to people that are all over the country, that going into the office was a complete waste of time/gas.”

The good news is that it had been said that remote work is potentially here to stay… the bad news is that was back in 2021 and there’s not enough data to know if that’s true… what we do know is that the Financial District is struggling, companies keep creating hybrid policies and SF is losing money from not having employees working in-office.

When we first started telecommuting, it was out of necessity, now it’s more a choice… it’s a choice that folks aren’t ready to let go of yet. Because there is a tighter labor market, more jobs are on the market and recruiters are still having a hard time filling positions.

So, knowing all this… Do you think that companies will keep full remote work an option?

In some cases, I personally think so. But I also predict we will see some shifts happening within the next year towards more companies pushing for a hybrid scenario. Sure, there’s pressure for companies to listen to the needs of their employees. Leadership knows that people will leave if they have less flexibility. Workers have the bargaining power but it’s a much more complicated relationship, according to Forbes.

Something else we know is that the lack of folks down in places like the FiDi is making that entire area of SF a complete ghost town. What does this mean for remote employees? Well, no workers downtown means less tax money coming into the city. My thought is, if there is less tax money than we might find that the city puts more pressure on businesses or… incentives. I’m not an expert but I could see this happening.

We’re seeing less in all things: rent, conventions, employees… less money spent downtown as a whole. Some of the data from this article, “Office Space vacancy is up from 4.8 million square feet in the first quarter of 2019 to 18.7 million square feet in the first quarter of 2022, according to data presented in the article. That’s the highest level of office vacancies since the Great Recession. Convention attendees have dropped from 221,500 to 30,300 in the same period, and BART exits are down from 9.8 million to 2.3 million. Sales tax revenue in 2021 dropped to 33.5 million, compared to 55.6 million in 2019.”

As mentioned in a recent Chronicle article, Kate Sofis, director of the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, believes that we may never go back to how it was before. Sofis and their team are trying to find a solution that will bring vitality back to the FiDi.|

My worry is that the loss of tax dollars will out way the benefits individuals like myself feel working remotely.

Even tho many of us have been working at home for over 2 years, we’re still early in our understanding of what the impact of this shift in employment will mean for ourselves as employees and the companies we work for. But what I do know is that usually if you follow the money than you’ll find what will happen next.

An SFO-bound BART train pulls up to a station platform.

Fare increases are set to take effect July 1st.

Who knows what’ll happen next. We can only really speculate at this point. But I can tell you that the lack in money coming into San Francisco isn’t isolated to SF…other cities also reporting financial issues due to the post-pandemic influx of remote workers (like Philly and New York), I think it’s just a matter of time before we will see more companies trying to coax us back into the office. What we can likely expect is something shifting… either more hybrid work, companies subleasing space to others to fill office space, a combination of all the things….we will see a lot of shifts happening this year. What’s the immediate fix?

UC Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti said “If officials are looking for immediate fixes, then Breed should require all municipal workers to fully return to the office. To sweeten the deal, maybe the city could cover those people’s transit costs.” Cover my transit cost? Like… my ticket to ride that BART car, the ticket that just went up in price… to ride along with 200 other people in a car designed for half of that?

If I can help it… I’ll try and stay remote. If I can’t stay remote, I’ll have to adapt. Only time will tell.

As of July 2022, there’s a mix of remote and hybrid still happening.

Apple: hybrid with specific days that you’re expected to come into the office.
Amazon: you get to decide by role/team
Williams-Sonoma: I talked with one person working there and they have to come in 3 days a week. Their managers monitor this and report back the to corporate office letting them know who did or didn’t come in as expected.
with Netflix being the outlier… they expect all employees to come back full-time to the office.

Remote work policies across big tech companies – graphic by tradingsecretspodcast – stats from Statista


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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy has lived in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.