Opinion: The Illogical Push for a Return to Office

2 Mins read

As the host of the podcast “In the Room with Peter Bergen,” focused on national security matters, I consistently witness the advantages of operating within a fully remote workforce. Our production team, spanning locations from Brooklyn and Manhattan to Chicago, Mexico City, and San Francisco, has convened in person only twice during the year of our production, yet we’ve successfully produced numerous highly polished episodes featuring multiple guests, undergoing extensive editing processes.

Throughout my four decades in the media industry, I have never experienced a work environment with a more vibrant esprit de corps, creative dynamism, and a collective eagerness to assist one another. Despite this, certain corporate leaders persist in advocating for their employees’ return to physical offices. Prominent institutions like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and tech giants like Meta insist on their staff spending several days per week at the office.

These demands for a return to office life often rest on unfalsifiable assertions regarding the purported necessity of chance encounters fostering creative and productive ideas. A prime example of this perspective is Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, who claimed in 2021 that working from home fails to support spontaneous idea generation. Yet, there is no empirical evidence supporting this assertion, and the desire for employees to return to offices appears more rooted in a need for control and attachment to traditional work practices.

From an economic standpoint, these return-to-office demands appear counterintuitive, especially when considering that a significant portion of Americans capable of remote work have transitioned to working from home. According to the Pew Research Center, this shift has increased from 7% before Covid to a third of eligible Americans working remotely. Despite this, the economy displays strength in terms of low unemployment and GDP growth, challenging the notion that working from home stifles innovation and creativity.

Furthermore, working remotely has tangible benefits, such as saving Americans an average daily commute of 72 minutes, along with reduced pollution and energy consumption, as highlighted by a 2023 University of Chicago study. Working parents, in particular, gain advantages by avoiding the time, money, and flexibility costs associated with commuting to an office, as indicated by a 2023 Bankrate survey showing that 74% of working women with children and 64% of all working Americans support remote work.

As a parent who now primarily works from home, I appreciate the increased time spent with my children and the ability to respond to unforeseen emergencies promptly — a luxury often unavailable during the office era.

The internet and mobile phones have rendered many traditional office activities obsolete. While certain professions, such as those in hospitals, restaurants, film sets, or government offices dealing with classified material, necessitate in-person presence, much of the economy operates efficiently without the need for physical proximity.

The persistent insistence on a return to office life is not aligned with the desires of the majority of employees, who seek the flexibility and control that remote work affords, not out of laziness but as a means to enhance their quality of life.

So, why do some leaders resist the inevitable shift away from traditional office setups? The answer eludes me.

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