The remote work debate is playing out beyond the finance world. But there are questions on how well Wall Street is handling remote work. Companies are creating back-to-office pathways. This could very well leave some workers, such as those with elder and childcare responsibilities, out.
Mark, a vice president at a global bank, has a sweeping view of his bucolic backyard from his home office in suburban New Jersey in the United States. In between virtual meetings, he takes quick breaks to connect with his two elementary school-aged children and talk dinner logistics with his wife.
“Overall, working from home has been amazing for our family,” Mark, who asked not to use his last name due to job concerns, told Al Jazeera. “I feel like I’m even more productive because I don’t commute, and can step up in meaningful ways at home.”
That newly achieved work-life balance will all end this summer, however, when Mark expects to be summoned back to the office like many in the US financial industry. The heads of big Wall Street firms have made it clear that remote work isn’t working for them, and employees are being forced to follow suit.
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon asserted earlier this month that working from home “doesn’t work for those who want to hustle.” And he predicted that “sometime in September, October, it will look just like it did before”.
For its part, Goldman Sachs told its employees to “make plans to be in a position to return to the office” by June 14 in the US and June 21 in the United Kingdom.
‘Disconnecting new family connections’
Mark does not work for Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan, but believes the two major banks’ policies will set a precedent for the industry. And Mark worries that he and his family will lose the gains they made in the past year when he dons his suit and tie and commutes the nearly two hours back to New York City.
“Because of [the commute], I know I won’t be as present as I have been,” Mark said.
And Mark isn’t only worried about his own sanity sitting in traffic or on the train. He’s worried about how his wife will once again bear the brunt of the childcare responsibilities. This is only possible because of her more flexible part-time work schedule.
“I was working a lot, but I was here,” he said of the past year with his children. “I knew the names of their teachers; and could make lunch. I felt like we were a partnership. And I feel like we will lose that.”
‘Something is changing’
The remote work debate is playing out beyond the finance world as companies create back-to-office pathways. This could very well leave some workers, such as those with elder and childcare responsibilities, out. Some fear that the corporate culture that favoured whoever could stay at the office longest might be creeping back in, too.
Last week, WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani said “those who are least engaged are very comfortable working from home.” This is a statement that was made to an audience for The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival.
His comment led to swift backlash — but also fear that he may be voicing an unspoken attitude common among managers.
It will reach a point where compensation doesn’t become an essential driving force. If one firm offers $1.2m, and one offers $1m but with the chance to work from home. The flexibility may win out in recruiting top talent.Aleksandar Tomic, Woods College of Advancing Studies at Boston College
‘Between in-person and fully remote’
Experts, however, say “the new normal” around remote work continues to shift and exceptions will become the rule. For example, JPMorgan’s and Goldman Sachs’s back-to-work plans let some employees still work remotely depending on their roles. Also, occupancy caps mean that workers will likely rotate into the office on a hybrid schedule for the foreseeable future.
“Big banks are calling people back, but you’re also seeing them shrink their footprint. So something is changing,” Roy Cohen, an executive coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, told Al Jazeera.
But that said, Cohen notes that in-person workplaces may have a competitive advantage over those that offer fully remote options.
“It’s nearly impossible to understand the corporate culture of an organisation if you’re not inside the organisation,” Cohen said. “And you need to make sure that you have senior people for leadership and mentorship. I think there will be some stumbles as firms figure out what works, and what their employees will accept.”
‘Flexibility may win out’
The flip side of the coin is that firms might also have to prove to workers why they need to be in an office after doing their jobs remotely for more than a year. Cohen has also seen this dynamic play out in his conversations with coaching clients.
“I have a client who feels confident that his firm will support a hybrid schedule,” he said. “He knows he’s valuable and he knows that his bank will work to keep him.”
Aleksandar Tomic, associate dean for strategy, innovation, and technology at the Woods College of Advancing Studies at Boston College, believes that remote-friendly options will continue to be a flashpoint in talent retention. Especially for recruiting management-level talent.
“I don’t think firms will have a problem recruiting entry-level employees [to work onsite]. But I think it’s when you’re looking for talent that things will get complicated,” Tomic told Al Jazeera.
“It will reach a point where compensation doesn’t become an essential driving force. If one firm offers $1.2m, and one offers $1m but with the chance to work from home. The flexibility may win out in recruiting top talent.”
The pandemic brought about a paradigm shift in terms of what people expect of their workplace. And it’s the workplaces that truly are empathetic to their workers that seem to be coming out ahead.Lauren Pasquarella Daley, Catalyst
‘Strict return to office and the vulnerable’
Tomic’s prediction is echoed by statistics. According to a survey of over 5,000 US workers across the country conducted by management consulting company McKinsey, nearly one-third of workers would like to work remotely full time. And more than a quarter say they would consider switching employers if their organisation returned to fully on-site work.
But of course, many workers don’t have the luxury of weighing multimillion-dollar job offers.
Tomic believes strict “return to office” mandates may disproportionately affect women, parents, and minorities. These are those who may have been less valued at work in the past and might be passed over for roles in favour of people who can commit to full-time, on-site employment.
And, if the idea of tying performance to being present, presence or presenteeism persist, those workers could also lose out on advancement opportunities or raises, he said
“I think the question will not be, can you work at home. But can you truly advance at home,” Tomic said.
‘This huge unknown’
In this way, it may be the people who have the option to continue to work remotely or head back to the office who are facing the most uncertainty.
“I feel like it’s this huge unknown,” Laura, who works at a tech company in New York City and does not want her last name used due to employer sensitivity, told Al Jazeera. “I feel on one hand, we’re being told that we can choose. And on the surface, that seems great. But then I wonder: Is it a real choice? In a way, a ‘back-to-work’ mandate makes it easier because you know what’s expected of you.”
Laura is already facing pressure. Her manager told her team he expects them back in the office in early June.
Laura has two children aged five and nine who are on a hybrid school schedule in Jersey City, New Jersey. And she says figuring out a childcare option for them for the last two weeks of school is “an impossibility”.
Her manager has told her they “might” find some wiggle room, she said. But this has left Laura feeling stressed out and unsure if a “special dispensation” to continue to work remotely may result in missed opportunities.
Women have already been disproportionately impacted by the burden of juggling remote learning and work.
Research from Catalyst, a global non-profit focused on building equity and inclusion for women in the workplace, has found that while all parents had a productivity onus put on them during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was mothers who suffered the most.
‘Shifting back a paradigm shift’
A Catalyst-CNBC poll found that 41 percent of mothers (and 36 percent of fathers) felt they had to hide their caregiving struggles from their employer. And that parents, especially, feared they would be the first to be let go if their company needed to downsize.
“Women, parents, and people of colour were disproportionately affected during the pandemic,” Lauren Pasquarella Daley, senior director of Women and the Future of Work at Catalyst, told Al Jazeera.
“I think we’re looking at two things as companies are considering their return-to-work plans. First, that organisations do not create two tiers of work, with some people getting advantages for being in the office. And the second is to advance and build flexibility for workers who may not have had access to remote work options,” she said.
This, Daley explained, means using technology as a way to allow shift workers to control their time and schedules.
Daley also believes that some companies with firm “back-to-work” timelines may be out of step with the culture.
“The pandemic brought about a paradigm shift in terms of what people expect of their workplace. And it’s the workplaces that truly are empathetic to their workers that seem to be coming out ahead,” she said.
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The pandemic acted as a catalyst for change. As a result, every organisation had to transition quickly and we all had to climb a steep learning curve. From working remotely, restructuring the workplace, redefining job roles, and then having reimagined workplace culture.
The benefits of working from home included quick access to fridge, pets on demand and a ‘relaxed’ dress code.
Michele Romanow, Clearco co-Founder & President
It’s been an exceptional year for e-commerce companies. I didn’t believe that a company could ever be as productive and grow with home-based workers. And in the long term, this will be a huge win for women in the workforce and flexi-working.
Sonja Gittens-Ottley, Asana Head of Diversity and Inclusion
The rapid shift to remote work caused a rise in self-doubt, resulting in an increase in poor mental wellbeing among employees. No matter which model you find yourself working in, make sure your boss sets clear expectations and have the right tools in place to create transparency around workloads and how work is distributed.
Sergei Anikin, Pipedrive co-CEO and CTO
To support hybrid working, businesses must establish how they will create a sense of belonging across the organisation, no matter where their team is located. Companies that will retain and further build their talent pool will focus on their winning company culture.
Stuart Templeton, Slack Head of UK
Giving individuals control over how to work boosts motivation, allows them to produce quality work, and encourages a strong work-life balance
For those who return fully to the office, the answer is likely a return to the old way of doing things. For those who decide to go fully remote, the answer is likely to completely embrace and perfect the systems that they’ve used to survive the past 16 months.
Hybrid work requires a unique approach that involves more learning, more planning, and more tweaking. And the 3 things that your business needs to succeed at hybrid work are;
- A remote-first mindset.
- A commitment to asynchronous work.
- A workflow management solution.
A remote-first mindset.
Hybrid working is a lot like being friends with a vegetarian — you always need to keep them in mind when you’re making dinner plans. Embrace remote work tools, and plan every single meeting with remote employees in mind. Also, don’t forget to establish virtual touchpoints with management and mentors.
A commitment to asynchronous work.
Asynchronous work means working independently and on your own time. It simply means that an individual’s role in a task isn’t dependent on the presence or participation of anyone else.
A workflow management solution
Once your workflows are established, share them widely. Clearly defined workflows increase transparency, build alignment, and enable a remote-first approach. They tie everything together, providing a clear path to success for all employees.
If the above 3 things that your business needs to succeed at hybrid work are not sufficient, check below and read the blueprint for designing hybrid work policies.
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Shifting to remote work should not be the only focus of work redesign. A policy declaring that people must work remotely, or even one saying they can work whenever and wherever they want can have issues. It can easily become pressure to work longer hours and be available 24/7—leading to burnout over time.
There are two important elements of the initiative studied by Erin L. Kelly and Phyllis Moen. The are; training managers to shift how they approached their roles and how they can help their teams to identify and reduce low-value work.
First, managers need to express support of employees’ personal lives and to clearly articulate performance goals and expectations. This help managers to focus on monitoring results rather than “face time” at the office.
Secondly, structured team discussions helped overloaded employees identify changes they could make as individuals and teams. This work redesign approach ultimately changed everyday work practices. Such as, reducing the number of meetings or the number of people required to attend them, and increasing the ability to work remotely. It also help with the identification of low-value work that teams can reduce and still hold work hours steady.
These changes improved well-being and work/life integration for employees and managers. There was an increase in job satisfaction, and the company benefited from reduced costs associated with turnover among valuable employees.
But such benefits arise only when employees feel they can choose where and when they work – not by mandating some particular mix of remote and in-office work. It is also critical that managers and coworkers respect workers’ personal and family situations. In other words, the benefits documented come not from a policy allowing remote work per se, but from gaining a sense of control and support.
No One Size Fits All
The exact mix or blend of remote and in-office work may depend on the work being done and the personal lives of the workforce, but working at home exclusively only works well for some employees and roles. However, the research shows that having some say in when, where, and how they work is highly valued by many employees, and can be good for a company’s bottom line.
The work redesign approach deployed in this study did not set up formal policies laying out how much time was expected in the office. It does not also require individuals to get permission from their managers to work from home. Instead, it encourages regular conversations about how people hoped to work and how the team could coordinate to do its best work. Thereby, setting the stage for adaptable and customized ways of working.
This is the perfect moment to launch a work redesign initiative like the one researched. This can be done by inviting teams to discuss and learn from how they adapted during the pandemic and how they struggled, and to imagine what might work well for them. Erin and Phyllis created free training resources from their study, including a facilitator’s guide to implementing this kind of work redesign program.
Erin L. Kelly is the Sloan distinguished professor of work and organization studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Phyllis Moen holds the McKnight endowed presidential chair in sociology at the University of Minnesota. They are the authors of Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It.
Emotional stress, including “stress from lack of control in the workplace or from life events,” creates susceptibility to physical illness. This was affirmed twenty years ago in a British Medical Journal article as summarized here by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Giving employees more control over their jobs does more than just reduce stress-related illness. It also decreases employee mortality. The key is empowering them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritize their decision making and … have a voice in the goal-setting process.
Giving employees a chance to help shape the future of work will give them more skin in the game. It will deepen their connection to an organization. Finally, it gives them a sense of job ownership and control and will improve their well-being while benefiting the organization.
Self-love is the process of knowing yourself, connecting with your inner self, overcoming self-limiting beliefs, letting go of everything that doesn’t serve you, and falling in love with yourself.
Self-love helps silence the fear of rejection, our inner critic, and instead befriend it to serve us rather than taunt us. And we develop confidence in what we stand for, when we know who we are from within. With self-love, we are able to let go of self-judgment, negative thoughts, opinions, and people who are not aligned with us.
When we accept ourselves wholly for who we are, people around us also start seeing us in the same light. Likewise, when we love what we do and do what we love, we are alive and soaring in all that we do. This further draws others with positive energy to us. Ultimately, that power of love for yourself, will not only elevate your relationship with yourself, but enhance and deepen your relationship with work, family, life, and everything around you.