Multiple studies conducted both before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that remote work is often more productive than office work. Yet, many leaders are still requiring their employees to return to the office. Why?
One possible reason is that these leaders suffer from "productivity paranoia." These leaders cling to the idea that because employees are at the office, they must be working; in reality, studies suggest that employees spend less than 40% of their time at the office actually working. Likely due to confirmation bias, these leaders go with their gut and convince themselves that mandating a return to office will increase productivity.
On the other hand, a different possible reason is that these leaders recognize that the benefits of in-person work outweigh the productivity gains of remote work. Working in an office can improve health and well-being when it promotes community, a shared sense of purpose and belonging, friendship, real connection, and routine. In-office time can also improve cognitive performance when it promotes collaboration, learning, listening, empathizing, thinking, and responding.
Leaders who wish to successfully bring employees back to the office must remember that employees want to feel trusted and respected by their leaders. As noted by the Harvard Business Review, “Mandates feel like a violation of autonomy, which is one of the most important intrinsic drivers of threat and reward in the brain." As such, leaders will meet far less resistance in their efforts to return to the office if they can inspire the change through promotion of its benefits rather than mandate the change from a place of mistrust.