The Great Debate: Return to Office vs. Work from Anywhere

Move over Lincoln-Douglas. That pair’s epic series of debates has nothing over the increasingly feisty back-and-forths between proponents of the burgeoning Work from Anywhere movement and their Return to Office counterparts. 

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Move over Lincoln-Douglas. That pair’s epic series of debates has nothing over the increasingly feisty back-and-forths between proponents of the burgeoning Work from Anywhere movement and their Return to Office counterparts. Propelled, at least initially, by a pandemic that few saw coming, a conversation that originally centered on health and safety concerns has grown into something larger – a debate about the role of the office and the nature of work itself.

Work from Anywhere? Return to the Office? Which represents the Future of Work? This spirited debate gets to the bottom of this urgent and timely issue once and for all.


Let’s get to it: 


WFA: A people-centered approach to work that’s also friendlier to the planet. What’s not to love about hybrid?


RTO: Where do I start? Where’s the synergy? Where’s the connection? How can we be stronger together if we’re not physically together? Remote had its place, COVID-19 saw to that, but this so-called new mindset, in which workers are free to roam the planet, working from wherever they want, for the foreseeable future, is clearly doomed to fail.


WFA: What’s doomed to fail is a narrow mindset that refuses to recognize the world has turned and that hybrid is here to stay. Now isn’t the time to lament the loss of office synergy, it’s the time to seek out new work models that support or even enhance that sense of connection.


RTO: Such as? I mean, work is a team sport. Isolation doesn’t foster the community dynamic companies like mine need to succeed. 


WFA: Neither does forcing people to come into the office. Setting aside the fact that workers want remote options, workplace choice has real productivity implications. A successful hybrid work approach, one that supports office-based and remote options, allows workers to spend more time at their jobs than they spend commuting to them. It means ensuring that each individual employee is in the environment that supports their best work. Not least, reclaiming lost time while facilitating true workplace choice positively impacts efficiency and motivation, two primary drivers of productivity. 


RTO: Have another glass of Kool-aid. Workers want a lot of things. This fixation on morale – a.k.a. employee happiness – misses the point of work. Working from Anywhere doesn’t work for people that want to get ahead, it doesn’t work for culture. 


WFA: I’d say you’re the one with the fixation – on the office. The pandemic is a terrible tragedy, but it’s also presented an opportunity to rethink what it means “to office.” Hybrid formats don’t ditch the office format, they reenvison it, they improve it by recognizing that work takes many forms. Concentration. Collaboration. Coworking. No pre-pandemic office model was capable of being all things to all people. Given the advances in personal technology, given the possibilities of digital connectivity, why should it be? 


RTO: It takes more than technology to keep workers connected. There will never be a substitute for “old-fashioned” face-to-face meetings when it comes to building values and fostering creativity. Kipling put it best: For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack. 


WFA: Your taste in authors is dated, but we agree that technology is only one piece of the puzzle. And that’s why remote-first deploys technology to diversify workplace culture, to make it more equitable, more inclusive, and more conducive to work – including face-to-face meetings with your fellow pack-members, when they’re needed.


RTO: Here’s the bottom line: Why indulge the transition to remote-first when you can modify your existing HQ to support the latest health protocols and bring everyone back together? 


WFA: Why play a zero-sum game with your employees by forcing them back to HQ when you can create a hybrid format that increases productivity, reduces employee churn and makes it possible for you to recruit and hire talent all over the world?


RTO: Whatever. I’ve heard enough. Nice chatting with you, but I have to go. I want to get a jump on traffic.


WFA: Nice chatting with you too. Welcome to the future. 

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