Is remote work finally coming to an end? Zoom, White House call employees back to the office.

The battle over the future of work shows no signs of cooling down

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 07: A sign is posted on the exterior of Zoom headquarters on February 07, 2023 in San Jose, California. Zoom Video Communications announced plans to cut 15 percent of its workforce, an estimated 1,300 people. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Zoom is asking employees to spend more time at the office. (Getty Images)
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If managers were waiting for a sign that it was the right time to call employees back to the office, they couldn’t hope for one any clearer than the announcement that Zoom, whose videoconferencing technology made remote work possible for millions during the coronavirus pandemic, was limiting its own work-from-home policies.

“The remote-work revolution is officially dead,” declared Business Insider.

According to Forbes, about 13% of the full-time American workforce is fully remote; another 28% workers are hybrid, meaning that they work some days from the office and some from home.

But those figures could change in the coming weeks. Elected officials, corporate executives and civic leaders say that it’s time to curb a practice that was convenient during the early days of the pandemic but that has outlived its usefulness.

Read more on Yahoo News: The remote-work culture wars are far from over

New findings on productivity

Many workers enjoy the comforts of remote work.
Many workers enjoy the comforts of remote work. (Getty Images)

When remote work was first introduced in the spring of 2020, it was a matter of necessity, not convenience, since most of the country was under strict lockdown orders.

At first, managers were pleasantly surprised to find productivity increasing. Workers no longer had to brave lengthy commutes or engage in chit-chat with colleagues who wanted to share their vacation photos.

Now, however, most evidence is pointing in the other direction. Remote workers may be becoming more disconnected and therefore less productive. Fully remote workers who have no contact with their colleagues could be 20% less productive than their peers, according to one study.

Corporate executives also say that creativity has suffered, and that younger workers are missing out on mentorship opportunities.

“It’s time to admit that remote work doesn’t work,” says Silicon Valley technology investor David Sacks.

Read more on Yahoo News: The coming culture war over returning to the office

The end of an era for Zoom

A man walks at the World Economic Forum 2023, in the Alpine resort of Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 16, 2023. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)
Zoom is bucking a trend it helped to pioneer. (Arnd Wiegmann / reuters)

Zoom was hardly the only platform white-collar workers used to stay in touch and collaborate during the pandemic, but it came to symbolize — arguably more than any other company — how work was transformed by COVID-19.

Even Zoom happy hours were a thing, however briefly. A local official in Northern California attained notoriety by throwing his cat during a Zoom meeting.

But those days seem to be over. Last week, Zoom said that its own employees needed to come back to the office, at least part of the time.

“We believe that a structured hybrid approach — meaning employees that live near an office need to be on-site two days a week to interact with their teams — is most effective for Zoom,” a spokesperson said.

Read more on Yahoo News: Study finds remote work and hybrid schedules might increase stress in U.S. workers, via Deseret News

White House tells government workers to return

The FBI building surrounded by sparse vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
The FBI building, during afternoon hours, in Washington, D.C., on March 26. (Tom Brenner/Reuters) (Tom Brenner / reuters)

Zoom is not alone in asking workers to come back to the office. The nation’s largest employer, the federal government, is also signaling a shift in its approach to remote work.

For nearly two years, the Biden administration has been generous in allowing federal agencies to allow their employees as much latitude as they wanted regarding where they work. That position frustrated local officials in Washington, D.C., who grew increasingly frustrated with how empty the city had become.

In recent months, however, the Biden administration has taken a tough approach to work-from-home policies. In April, its Office of Management and Budget director, Shalanda Young, said in a memo that agency leaders needed to plan to spend more time in the office.

Earlier this month, a government report found that billions of dollars were being wasted on barely used government offices.

Several days later, Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, wrote in a widely shared guest essay in the Washington Post that it was time for federal workers to return to the office.

“Remote work by civil servants is especially troubling because the federal government is a monopoly supplier,” Bloomberg wrote. “In the private sector, if remote workers do a poor job, business suffers, and customers take their spending elsewhere. In the public sector, people just have to put up with poor service.”

The publication of Bloomberg’s message coincided with a memo from the White House chief of staff, Jeff Zients, that told agency heads that they needed to bring government workers back into the office.

“This is a priority of the President — and I am looking to each of you to aggressively execute this shift in September and October,” Zients wrote.

Read more on Yahoo News: Americans are paying billions for empty government offices