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Back to work

Published on: 8 May 2024

More and more companies are seemingly now asking people to return to the office/ place of work, after working remotely since Covid-19. Is it fair? Do they have the right? 

The question of whether companies have the right to ask employees to return to the office after a period of remote work due to COVID-19 is a complex and multifaceted issue. It involves considerations of employee rights, employer prerogatives, public health concerns, and evolving workplace norms. 

Arguments for:

Business needs: Companies may argue that there are legitimate business reasons for wanting employees to return to the office. These reasons could include fostering collaboration (we all know face-to-face is more productive), enhancing productivity, maintaining company culture, and ensuring proper supervision and management of employees.

Legal rights: In many areas, employers have the legal right to set workplace policies, including whether employees are required to work on-site or remotely. As long as these policies comply with relevant labour laws and regulations, companies may have the legal authority to mandate a return to the office. 

Infrastructure and resources: Some companies may have invested significant resources in creating and maintaining office spaces that are conducive to productivity and collaboration. They may believe that these resources are being underutilised if employees continue to work remotely.

It was the norm: If you worked in an office prior to the disruption of COVID, then most likely your employment contract subscribes that working within the office is necessary. Now it is safe to do so, that previous contract becomes relevant again. 

Argument against:

Health and safety: COVID-19 has highlighted the potential risks associated with crowded office environments, particularly in terms of swiftly spreading illness and disease. Employees may have legitimate concerns about their health and safety, especially if they or their loved ones are at higher risk of severe illness. 

Work-life balance: It has been highly evident that not commuting/ travelling to offices every day does offer up saved and valuable 'new' time,  and as a whole, remote workers have greater flexibility and autonomy in managing their work-life balance. Returning to the office, could disrupt routines and make it more challenging for employees to juggle work, family and personal commitments. 

Environmental concerns: Commuting to and from the office contributes to traffic, congestion, pollution and carbon emissions. Encouraging remote work can help reduce environmental impact and promote sustainability.

Productivity and efficiency: Contrary to traditional beliefs, numerous studies have shown that remote work can lead to increased productivity and job satisfaction for many employees. Mandating a return to the office may actual hinder productivity by disrupting established remote worker routines and causing unnecessary stress.

So where do you sit? It is certainly a contentious issue with valid arguments on both sides. Ultimately, finding a balance between business needs, employee preferences, and public health considerations is essential for creating a work environment that is conducive to both productivity and well-being. Instead of dismissing employee concerns as mere 'moaning', it is crucial for companies to engage in open dialogue and consider the diverse needs and perspectives of their workforce.