Why return to the office if you’re just Zooming all day anyway?

Many business owners insist that their workers will return to the office soon. Think again. Mega-commercial real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield admits, “No one is expecting workers to come into the office to primarily answer emails—that and any other heads-down tasks can be done anywhere.”

This is not happening, Cushman & Wakefield argues, just because COVID-19 forced businesses to embrace working from home. It’s a trend that’s been building since 2005. The further along an area is in the knowledge and experience economy, the more likely it is to support remote work. For example, in 2019—before anyone knew anything much about pandemics—Austin, Texas had already seen 14.4% of its office workers doing their jobs remotely.

That, of course, hasn’t stopped some businesses from insisting that things will return to the good old days of morning commutes, 9-to-5 in the office, and an evening commute to round out the day. I’m so sick of hearing this. It’s not going to happen.

As I’ve pointed out before, people are sick (sometimes literally) of working from offices. If you try to force them to come back, they’ll quit. It’s that simple. There are more jobs out there now than employees to fill them, and they know that. Don’t believe me? Check with your HR department about how hard it is to fill open positions.

This is really not the time to cut your business’s throat by giving your best people a big reason to walk away from their job.

Besides, what do those workers find when they do come back to the office? The exact same work they’ve been doing from home—and the same flurry of Zoom meetings they were already doing from the home office. Except, in the office, they have to dress up.

As a recent article from The Washington Post put it: “They’re still spending most of their time isolated and glued to their computers for Zoom meetings, email, and Slack.”

The Post didn’t cherry-pick the people interviewed for that story. I’ve talked—virtually, I should note—with numerous colleagues and friends, and those who are back in the office are seeing the same thing. As one put it, “The only difference is now I’ve wasted half an hour driving to work and then another half an hour driving back.”

And yet, some managers still wonder why so many of their workers don’t want to go back to a Monday-Friday office schedule!? (Hint: You’re asking them to waste their time and energy for no good purpose.)

There’s another big reason why you shouldn’t insist on a Monday-to-Friday workweek at the office. It’s costing you money—a lot of money.

Alignable’s September rent report is out. Alignable, a small business online network, found that now, more than ever, many small businesses can’t afford to pay their full rent. In September, 35% of U.S. small businesses and 38% of Canadian small businesses couldn’t pay their rent. That’s up 5% and 6%, respectively.

True, businesses that rely on in-person contacts, such as restaurants, beauty salons, and retailers, got hit the hardest in the pandemic. But white-collar offices got slammed, too. When no one is in your office, or the workers there are still doing the same-old, same-old that they could be doing from home, you might as well just burn the money you’re spending on rent.

No doubt, many of you—not all—need some kind of office space. There are times when you really do need face-to-face meetings, if they can be done safely. But do you actually need a full-fledged office building when a conference room for meetings twice per week will suffice?

Also note: if you’re having trouble paying rent, don’t expect your landlord to let you slide. According to Alignable, 80% of renters say they’ve received no help from landlords in terms of rent reductions, payment delays, or even assistance in applying for loans. You’re the only person who can really reduce your real estate costs.

So, tell me again, exactly why do you want everyone to return to the office? Think about it long and carefully before you issue orders that everyone is to return to their old cubicles and schedules. You’ll be glad you did. So will your workers.

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