If Employers Want Us Back in the Office, They Need to Pay Up

I am not willing to barter away my freedom.

Despite the pandemic sparking a work-from-home revolution, employees could be forced to return to physical offices in the next two years. According to analysis shared by UK-based think tank Centre for Cities, employers are ‘hopeful’ that staff will return to the office as soon as possible. Businesses reason that this would allow for the return of unscheduled interactions that are, apparently, the key to creativity.

The property industry jumped on the news and added that demand for office space is already on the rise again. It’s important to note that think tanks that aim to boost the economies of large cities — often to the detriment of rural areas — will push for office-based staff. After all, if busy worker bees aren’t in city-center offices, who will prop up the Pret corporation? The sandwich chain has had to start delivering to drive profits these days.

But what about employees who have discovered that they can have a healthy work-life balance from home? What about employees who have saved significant sums of money and regained valuable hours by eliminating the commute from their daily lives? Who is going to compensate us for our precious time lost in commuting? And who is going to pay us for the extortionate travel expenses we’re forced to incur to get to the office?

I’d rather take a pay cut than go back to the office full time

I’ve never been a fan of the open-plan office with its uniform workstations and lunches that force you to socialize with your colleagues in sterile, communal kitchens.

Even before the pandemic struck, I could not understand why most office jobs were still done in physical offices. The internet changed everything. Broadband meant we could connect with our colleagues at any time from anywhere — and we did. Teams that were scattered around the country could have meetings and plan projects virtually.

Yet, small clusters of workers still had to congregate in large offices to carry out work that required nothing more than access to a laptop and an internet connection.

2020 changed everything.

Before, I’d have to get up an hour and a half early to get ready for work. I then sat in traffic for half an hour because public transport wasn’t even an option where I lived. Lunch was a stale sandwich from the canteen. I would often not have time to make dinner by the time I got home. It’s not just the commute that wears you out. It’s the crappy food you’re forced to eat. It’s the additional stress of sitting in an artificially lit environment all day, always looking over your shoulder and waiting for the next person to ask you something inane. There’s no such thing as quiet time; there’s no such thing as being in the zone.

Now? I get up half an hour before work starts. I have time to meditate in the morning and eat a healthy breakfast. Lunch is a healthy salad I make myself. I have time to make healthy, delicious dinners every evening. I also have actual time for my hobbies now — things like reading and writing.

Working from home has given me the freedom to live life on my terms.

Office life sapped all my energy and took away my creativity. It robbed me of the ability to live a full, balanced life. And I put up with it. I put up with it because everyone else put up with it. But we don’t have to anymore. We have seen that we can be just as productive, just as good at our jobs when we work from home.

So if employers ask us to return, they better be ready to compensate us for everything we would lose out on by having to commute every day.

And they will have to bargain hard. I would rather take a pay cut than go back to the office full time. I do not barter with my happiness.

And I’m not alone.

The workforce is fighting back

While tech firms are expected to lead the way when it comes to innovation, Apple and Google are expecting staff to return to the office. But Apple employees are not happy.

They are demanding a company-wide survey to determine whether working from home is the preferable option. They want decisions to be left up to individual teams, and they are asking important questions about the environmental implications of returning to the office. Some have even quit over the request to return.

Apple offers its staff high-end offices and gyms, and wellbeing facilities on site. Yet, it still can’t convince employees to return full-time. In the face of this, how could any company think it can create an environment that would be attractive enough for staff to return to the office?

Employees will rightfully revolt — working from home has proven successful, and many have loved the freedom it has provided them. Why should firms lay claim to the precious hours we have outside of work by forcing us to commute?

Employers with unreasonable demands should pay up

People should be paid fairly for their work. Where that work gets done should not matter if it’s of high quality and delivered on time. But if employers insist that staff should attend their city-center offices every day, they then need to understand that they are asking for a lot more than quality work being delivered.

They are asking workers to pay extortionate rents so they can live within a commutable distance. Their staff can’t choose to live in the peaceful countryside and reap the benefits of fresh air and open fields. They have to live in rabbit hutch flats and deal with heavy traffic and breathe in the polluted air that will kill them early.

They are asking their employees to spend upwards of 10% of their annual pay on train travel. This is money that could be saved for retirement or the down payment of a house. But why offer staff the opportunity to build a safe, financially secure life if they can instead have them working paycheck to paycheck?

Enough is enough. If employers want us to return to our offices, they better have a damned good reason. And, they better be willing to pay up. If they want us to spend 10 hours a week commuting, we want to be paid for those 10 hours and then some.

Employers should recognize that providing us with the option to work from home will make for a happier workforce. Unnecessarily working from an office because the CEO likes it that way is a frivolous, unreasonable demand.

And if companies want to make unreasonable demands that will impact the well-being of their employees, they better be willing to pay handsomely for the privilege.

A former journalist with a passion for words.

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