A recent article on remote working brought back memories of, many years ago, fighting for an employee to be allowed to work at home when that was hardly the norm. Significantly, many of the same arguments against remote working exist today as they did then.
It was a summer afternoon when one of our top employees tearfully came into my office and said she had to resign because her husband was being transferred to another state. After she left, I thought about the hassle of recruiting, hiring and training someone for her soon-to-be vacant position.
I walked down to HR (it was called HR back then) and said I wanted to set up our employee in a home office. The HR representative fought against the proposal and asked how I could “trust” her to be working and not doing other things.
I argued that if I could trust her in the office then I should trust her to do the job at home. And I also told her I didn’t care what hours the employee worked, only that the work got done.
I won the argument and the remote working was a huge success. She was often working at 6 a.m. (she had two toddlers) and at night. She told me she was able to achieve a better work-life balance. It was a win-win.
Remote working has, of course, become tremendously popular, but some employers might be pushing the envelope when it comes to overseeing and monitoring remote employees. A Florida-based company recently found that out after it was ordered to pay $72,000 to an employee in the Netherlands after the company fired him for refusing to keep his webcam on “for 8 hours a day.”
The Dutch telemarketer had complained to his employer that he was “uncomfortable” being monitored by camera for hours a day, adding that the company already tracked his laptop activity and shared his screen. He was then fired for “refusal to work” and “insubordination.” The court ruled that the telemarketer was unfairly dismissed, saying the webcam mandate violated “the employee’s right to respect for his private life.”
The court went even further and quoted from the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: “Video surveillance of an employee in the workplace, be it covert or not, must be considered as a considerable intrusion into the employee’s private life.”
The Latest Data
Could something like this happen to more U.S. employers?
In 2021, a survey by Digital.com of 1,250 U.S. employers found that 60% with remote employees were using work-monitoring software. Almost nine out of 10 of those companies said they had fired employees following the use of the software.
Despite these results, employees – particularly younger ones – want the option of working from home. Some employers have compromised in the requirement that workers must be in the office every day, instead opting to only require on-site work two to three days a week.
Currently, more than half of the American workforce (58%) are working remotely, according to mycreditsummit.org, and productivity has increased 47%.
The study also showed that, on average, Americans are working remotely three days per week. And while working from home has proven to increase productivity, it also results in less socializing.
Big Changes in a Short Time
In 2017-18, it should be noted, only 2.5% of the respondents were working from home full-time.
Many office workers have welcomed the flexibility of remote and hybrid working options, but those jobs may be drying up, a new study shows.
According to LinkedIn’s October 2022 Global Talent Trends report, employers are scaling back remote offerings in anticipation of an economic downturn, even as flexibility remains a top priority for job seekers. After job openings with remote options peaked in February at 20% of all listings, they dropped to 14% in September, which is the most recent statistic, LinkedIn data shows.
And employers are demanding that employees return to their offices. More than half of bosses (52%) want employees to head back to the office five days a week, according to a new Fiverr survey of 1,000 managers and executives in the U.S. About 42% of leaders said they want to see employees in person to help communication, 41% said the office benefits career development, and 33% reported thinking workers are more productive and motivated while being watched. About 42% of employees, on the other hand, said they’d consider quitting if forced to return to the office five days a week. Most believe more flexible working arrangements lead to improved work-life balance.
Probably the company that has received the most publicity about remote working is Twitter under new owner Elon Musk. Musk recently issued a directive to employees telling them he would not allow remote working and that all employees must be in the office a minimum of 40 hours per week.
Musk’s move reflects policies at his other companies, SpaceX and Tesla Inc., where he also told employees to work in the office at least 40 hours a week, or leave.
This is bound to create a problem for Twitter just as it may in the offices of distributors and manufacturers who might require a move back to the office. In fact, a recent survey of CEOs say that one of the greatest problems they face is how to deal with remote employees.