The Office or Remote Conundrum


The Office or Remote Conundrum
© Hanna

Your Business 

One thing is for sure: Working in a company office will never be the same again. The COVID lockdown of 2020-21 changed all of that. 

Being forced to work from home during that period was a novelty that most of us hadn’t experienced before. We weren’t sure whether we liked doing remote work, but we got used to it, and some of us began to like it.

Our daily routine was quite different. The initial negatives of family interruptions, lack of workspace and unaccustomed computer procedures gave way to the realization that commuting time had been eliminated, office dress codes were no longer a problem, and there was more time to enjoy one’s personal life.  

When we wanted to leave the house for brief errands, grab coffee or a snack, walk the dog, or schedule a home delivery, we could do it. If we worked it right, our small children wouldn’t have to go to daycare, and we could tend to an ailing member of the family at home. 

Yes, we had to be available for Zoom or Webex business calls, but we only had to look good from the waist up; no one knew if we were wearing shorts or less. All that was necessary was to satisfactorily complete what the company required, even if it meant working odd hours later to get it done. 

Then the coronavirus crisis abated, and many companies insisted that their employees return to their offices, if only for three days a week. The arguments for returning were legion—better communications, more innovation, quicker responses, and improved flexibility and cooperation, to name a few. But not everyone wanted to go back to their old routine, and others found company offices less than satisfying when they did return. 

A few companies installed welcoming furniture, but that didn’t help. To some, the quietness of empty conference rooms was disconcerting. To others, the offices now seemed noisier, with privacy at a premium. Eavesdropping and distractions seemed worse than before. 

Companies tried installing pods or “privacy booths,” but there were not enough of them. Steelcase even offered a tent that would create a cocoon around one’s desk. But workers who took early possession of these private zones didn’t want to give them up. How else to conduct personal business, as before, during office hours? 

For those who will continue to work remotely from home, it’s a mixed blessing. Older, more experienced workers—particularly those with limited managerial ambition—will enjoy the freedom. But younger workers and new hires will miss the opportunity to network and learn from casual contact in the halls or at lunch with more experienced employees. They will also be less likely to be promoted. 

An article in The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted an analysis of two million white-collar workers by Live Data Technologies, which found that “remote workers were promoted 31% less frequently than people who worked in an office.” That gap, it said, was “especially pronounced for women.” 

So there you have it. At the very least, some remote workers might want to think more seriously about returning to the office.

Note: This will be my last column for this magazine. Thanks to my loyal readers.  

Jack Goodhue, management coach, can be reached at

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