“I’m trying to fill up office buildings, and I’m telling JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, I’m telling all of them, ‘Listen, I need your people back into office so we can build the ecosystem,'” Mayor Eric Adams of New York City said this week. The city, which is heavily reliant on tax revenue from massive Midtown offices, recently announced a strict policy of in-person work for city employees.
“How does that look that city employees are home while I’m telling everyone else it’s time to get back to work?” Mr. Adams added. “City employees should be leading the charge of saying, ‘New York can be back.'”
‘A fake story we’ve been telling ourselves’
Beyond the bottom line, the back-to-office debate is about what kind of culture will prevail as the business world emerges from the pandemic. And for all of the power wielded by Mr. Musk, Mr. Dimon and Mr. Adams, they may be fighting a shift that is larger than any single company or city.
If the pandemic’s two-plus years of remote work experimentation have taught us anything, it’s that many people can be productive outside the office, and quite a few are happier doing so. That’s especially true for people with young children or long commutes, a minority of workers who have a tougher time fitting in with the standard office culture, or those with other personal circumstances that made working in offices less attractive.
“We are still struggling to let go of the ideal worker stereotype — even though that person, for a lot of people and occupations and demographic groups in the US, never really existed,” said Colleen Ammerman, the director of the Gender Initiative at Harvard Business School. “I think with remote work, and hybrid, we have the potential to truly move away from that and really rethink about what it means to be on a leadership track, what it means to be a high performer, and get away from that being associated with being in the office at all hours.”
Even as the pandemic has changed course, there are signs that the work-from-home trend is actually accelerating. One recent survey published in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that employers are now saying they will allow employees to work from home an average of 2.3 days per week, up from 1.5 days in the summer of 2020.
It’s not just the office — it’s also the commute. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that almost all of the major cities with the biggest drops in office occupancy during the pandemic had an average one-way commute of more than 30 minutes; and most cities with the smallest drops had shorter commutes.