As the deadly effects of COVID-19 wax and wane in the United States, employers who shuttered the high-rise offices and sent their employees home to work are calling them back to the office—back to in-person collaboration, office intrigue, traffic jams and dress codes.
But some employees are balking.
Recent studies reveal a significant number of employees have grown accustomed to working remotely—family relationships grew stronger, work hours became flexible, and clocking in meant rolling over in bed, opening the laptop and logging in.
A study commissioned by the online collaborative platform Miro indicated 62 percent of parents with children under 18-years-old said their at-home work experience has improved their relationship. Forty-nine percent reported working from home improved their relationship with their spouse/partner (The study did not make the distinction between married and unmarried couples living together.)
And, if given the opportunity to work remotely full-time, 34 percent of those surveyed said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to move to be closer to family and friends. Another third said they’d stay put.
A May 25 Wall Street Journal article details how some major corporations are trying to accommodate new employee demands while keeping an eye on their bottom line. For example, Sabre Corporation, a travel-technology company with its global headquarters in Southlake, Texas, surveyed its employees and managers about workplace options.
The result? The company will trim its use of its four-building campus to one building. About 25 percent of the company’s 7500 employees will return to office, the WSJ reported. The remainder will work remotely full-time or flex their time between the office and home.
How much should either side press to get what they want? What are employers’ responsibilities regarding their employees’ new-found appreciation of the work-from-home life? What is an employee’s obligation to comply with a return-to-the-office demand?
The TEXAN asked three men who have been employers and employees about the office-home work paradigm.
Remote working or telecommuting is nothing new to Norm Miller, a veteran communications leader currently serving with Yellowstone Christian College.
“As one who advocated for and was the first to complete a successful trial of telecommuting at a former job, I enthusiastically extol the benefits of working from home for a variety of reasons,” Miller said. “Money saved in gas, tolls, car maintenance, clothing, and meals are immediate practical and economic benefits that mitigate for the telecommuting employee.”
More significantly, Miller believes working from home “provides the opportunity to increase and enrich a family’s time together.”
“I know that extra help from the hybridizing spouse in dealing with little Johnny could help,” he said. “But the Lord can equip and fortify the child-tender to deal with such domestic challenges, just as he can suit and strengthen the outside-workplace spouse to cope with the ’Johnnies,’ young and old, in the office.”
Parents can also set a godly example by leaving home each day to go to work.
“There is, I think, abroad among well-meaning Christians, the notion that the more time spent at home the better,” Coppenger said, offering the example of the well-known trope: “No man on his deathbed says, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work.’” Coppenger continued: “Well, yes, quality and quantity time with the family is important, but there are some men who would have done much better to have spent more time at work.”
He cautioned parents not the “cast work in the world as merely a job instead of a contribution” to society. He credits Martin Luther with recognizing the “high calling” of what, to some, might seem trivial contributions to the workforce: “the conscientious bus driver who gets his wards from A to B promptly and safely; the guy who wades into a sea of poultry to load the truck, ultimately providing us Chick-Fil-A nuggets for our church fellowship.”
Christian employees and employers must remember their responsibility to God and each other when pressing for flex time or requiring office time.
“In both cases, one can be tempted, for example, to do less than his or her best at home or at work, violating the words of Christ in Luke 16:10-12 and Paul’s admonition in Colossians 3:23-24,” said Art Toalston, journalist and former Baptist Press editor.
Toalston noted a drawback of working from home is the temptation to always be at work.
“Workaholism is a danger, whether at the office or at home. At home, it might involve neglect of a spouse and children by spending long hours at the computer or on the phone,” Toalston said.
They all warned against one temptation that presents itself, uniquely, in the office.
“Concerning office dynamics, this era of sexual freedom and expression runs rampant,” Miller said. “Therefore, a decrease in how much time people spend together also decreases the possibilities of immoral indiscretions and the negative ramifications they bring. Workplace affairs have ruined families, careers, lives, and sometimes the very business wherein the illicit attractions began.”
Returning to the office for the first time in over a year can provide employees the opportunity to establish new boundaries, especially when it comes to work relationships with colleagues of the opposite sex. Coppenger championed the Billy Graham Rule as an effective preventative measure. The rule, named for the famous evangelist who coined it, encourages men and women to avoid meeting individually with each other for prolonged periods. This self-imposed rule helps co-workers avoid the temptation for intimate engagement or even a hint of impropriety.
Toalston put it in even more fundamental terms.
He said, “At the office, it might involve the temptation of too chummy a relationship with a co-worker of the opposite sex. Memorizing and adopting a simple daily reminder for work and all of life is in the Beatitudes, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’”
The massive workplace shift during the pandemic affirmed, on a large scale, Miller’s promotion of the feasibility and desirability of telecommuting.
“The data are in and have been for decades. They are unassailable, and the statistics and other results are staggeringly in favor of telecommuting,” he said.
The trend will only increase according to a study by Gartner, Inc., a U.S.-based research and advisory company. Their polling indicates that by the end of this year 51 percent of knowledge workers worldwide are expected to be working remotely, up from 27 percent in 2019.
Gartner defines knowledge workers as those involved in “knowledge-intensive occupations, such as writers, accountants, or engineers.” Hybrid employees spend at least one workday on site while “fully remote” employees work from home.
In the meantime, Christians—whether employer or employee—should strike a conciliatory attitude toward one another, the men said.
“In all, flexibility is required from employee and employer,” Miller said. “The employee must recognize that telecommuting is a privilege and not a right. And the employer must recognize that telecommuting proves that a happy employee is also a more productive one, measurably.”
—Written TEXAN Correspondents by Tammi Ledbetter and Bonnie Pritchett