4 Hidden Costs of Return-to-Office Mandates: Why Employee Freedom is Key to Success
The COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of people to work from home, creating a paradigm shift in the way work is done. The shift resulted in a noticeable increase in productivity, and employees worldwide benefited from the flexibility that comes with working remotely. However, as vaccination rates increase and the pandemic becomes less of a threat, many companies are calling employees back to the office.
While many people welcome the return to the office, others are fighting back against the new mandate. One group that is speaking out is working mothers of young children: myself included in that group.
Here are 4 reasons why mandating employees return to the office not only doesn't work, but may discriminate against working mothers of young children:
#1 Productivity is better when working remotely
Numerous studies show that working from home can increase productivity. Employees can work in a more comfortable environment, with fewer distractions than in the office. Remote work is less stressful and more accommodating to personal schedules, enabling workers to maintain a better work-life balance.
#2 Discrimination against working mothers
Requiring employees to return to the office may discriminate against working mothers of young children. When children were forced to learn from home, working mothers had to juggle work, homeschooling, and household responsibilities.
When the pandemic forced remote work, these mothers found relief in being able to work from home while caring for their children. Requiring them to return to the office would mean they would need to hire additional childcare to accommodate school bus pickups and drop offs, which is expensive and may not always be possible - especially finding someone trustworthy and reliable when family is not nearby. Companies that don't provide accommodations for working mothers may risk losing valuable, diverse talent from this group of multi-tasking, creative ninjas.
The shift to remote work has provided employees with the flexibility they need to work around their personal schedules. This include but are not limited to car maintenance, meal prep, dentist and doctor's appointments (for self and each child), and even - gasp - being able to exercise!
Requiring employees to return to the office could remove this flexibility, and arguably the time moms so desperately needed for self care, leading to resentment among workers who are now used to, and are just as productive, working from home.
Costs and commute
Working from home has allowed employees to save on commuting costs, and many companies have saved on office rent. Returning to the office would mean that employees would have to bear the cost of commuting, from the high price of gas and time wasted in traffic to the daily cost of train fare and lot parking - not to mention accounting for train delays and cancellations.
Personal family situations have also evolved during the past three years: perhaps there is only one family car that has car seats to pick up children - how is a 2nd parent able to pick up the kids if the first parent must be in an office until 5pm? Then employees could be saddled with an additional car purchase, monthly payment and insurance increase. Without a salary increase following a mandate, this would be a difficult change for working parents to accommodate.
The Bottom Line
Mandating employees to return to the office may not be the best decision for many employees, particularly working mothers of young children. The shift to remote work has provided employees with greater productivity and flexibility, and it would be a mistake to remove these benefits. Companies that insist on a return to the office without considering the needs of their employees risk losing valuable talent, especially among the rockstars that are working mothers.
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