The signs are there, just as they were, before the Delta and Omicron coronavirus variants hit – more employees are returning from the home office to the work desk.
Unlike past false starts, this time seems to be for real.
Transit agencies are seeing a cautious return of commuters. Ferries crossing the NY Waterway’s Hudson River are seeing an increasingly high return from weekday commuters.
“Since March 21, we have averaged 10,615 daily weekday passengers, up from 10,200 in early March,” said NY Waterway spokesperson Wiley Norvell. “This is an increase of approximately 300% compared to the beginning of March last year.”
On April 3, New York Waterway exceeded 15,000 daily passengers, he said.
This still represents 40% of pre-COVID ferry ridership. NJ Transit’s weekday rail ridership topped 50% of pre-COVID ridership in March, up from 40% in January, officials said. Ridership on buses to New York reached between 65% of pre-COViD levels last month, up from 55% in February.
After several false starts, is the world of work returning to what was normal before the pandemic?
Not quite, and maybe the answer is never, experts said. More and more employers have asked employees to return, at least on a hybrid basis, splitting the workweek between the office and home. Others waived the initial requirements to have workers in the office 5 days a week.
Typically, many New Jersey businesses retained some remote work component even after COVID restrictions were lifted, said Bob Considine, spokesman for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.
“Many have successfully grown out of the need to work remotely during the pandemic and have found it to be good for their productivity and their workforce,” he said.
The association’s Focus NJ “Return to Work in a Post-Pandemic World” study found that 65% of respondents said they would definitely continue or consider continuing remote work after the pandemic ends.
“We’ve seen companies like larger tech companies take this approach,” Considine said. “Even Lyft announced its extended remote work option through 2023 late last year.”
Record gas prices and two years of no travel costs are also reasons employees are reluctant to return to full-time work, experts said.
“There are a lot of people who are so used to working from home, and due to the historical level of job openings and the tight job market, they’re having leverage,” said Maurice “Mo” Cayer, from the University of New Haven in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and School of Management Faculty. “Many will negotiate with employers to continue working from home, many are willing to work in the office 2-3 days a week.”
A Robert Half survey from March 2022 is the most revealing. While 66% of managers surveyed want their employees to return to the office full-time, 50% of employees surveyed said it was a break and they would look for a new job. The recruitment firm interviewed 2,300 managers and 1,000 employees across the United States.
According to the latest Labor Department figures for February, 11.3 million U.S. job openings are fueling that employee leverage, Cayer said.
Remote working is an advantage for recruiting and retaining talent and works well in some business contexts, but it does not apply everywhere, especially in retail, manufacturing and chain distribution businesses. supply, said Professor Samuel Lloyd, Berkeley College, Larry L. Luing School. work.
Lloyd is among the experts interviewed who said the new hybrid work model won’t be “one size fits all” for a variety of reasons.
Resistance to a hybrid work schedule from employers is due to concerns about the loss of innovation and brainstorming among employees in the office.
“They want them to be immersed in the company culture, the belief that when employees are there, they interact with their peers and superiors,” Cayer said. “You develop bonds and connections. They result in people adapting the values of another hard work, ambition. Innovation is a big beneficiary of the return to work.
But some companies that previously announced a full five-day-a-week return to the office, like Google, have moved to a hybrid model.
“I hesitate to promote a recommendation where, in the future, all employees work from home and no one is in the office,” said sociology professor Deniz Yucel, from the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the Institute. William Paterson University. “But it shouldn’t be the same pattern as before COVID.”
Many companies’ skepticism seems to be eroding about remote working, Lloyd said.
“The current environment offers many opportunities for innovation,” he said. “We need to recognize that adaptability, flexibility and a hybrid approach to work are the new normals.”
Additionally, there are psychological effects on employees of remote work, which are both good and detrimental, experts said.
“Some people like to stay home and enjoy it… some don’t like being around other people, many suffer from social anxiety and feel uncomfortable, and it was a godsend to be at home. home”, Christian Holle, professor of psychology at William Paterson University. “Some people say they look forward to being with others, others don’t like the isolation.”
Among the downsides of distancing were increased anxiety and depression due to isolation.
“Working from home isn’t necessarily good for people, (some) reported more isolation, mental health issues and depression,” said Yucel, who studies the future of work. “There are people who have said that they cannot reconcile work and family. If you have a five-year-old running around, how can you concentrate? People have things at home that impact work.
A woman with preschoolers has had to manage work and childcare at home during the pandemic, she said. While men also felt some of that pressure, women bore more of the burden and felt more of a negative impact on their work-home balance, Yucel said.
“Some of the women I spoke to said they were looking forward to getting back to work,” Holle said. “With working from home, there’s no transition. Some people said they liked commuting because it was a recovery period, they could listen to music or podcasts.
Employees with compromised immune systems or other chronic illnesses may also have concerns about their physical safety in the workplace, Holle said.
While some workers are self-sufficient and able to work independently, other employees need the structure of a workplace, Holle said.
“Some don’t do well without structure, even though Zoom meetings and deadlines,” Holle said. “The structure is good for some people who need it.”
Overwork in the home workplace is another issue, with experts saying many employees have exceeded what would be considered office downtime.
“Workers need to find ways to draw boundaries between their work life and their personal and family life,” Lloyd said. “HR and line managers need to make managing work/life boundaries a regular part of the conversation.”
So what’s an employer to do? Be flexible and empathetic, experts said.
“They need to be a little more compassionate because there’s a lot of anxiety for people coming back to work,” Holle said. “They have to understand that the key element is flexibility. These people are changed.
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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].