Why is it so hard for leaders and employees to agree on remote work? Companies who rely on high-performance teams have concerns over self-governance during remote work and workers don’t want to compromise on the well-gained ground of work-life balance. The working landscape is polarized, for sure, and the tension is growing. Just to set an example, in 2023 Amazon workers staged a walkout to protest changes in the company’s office policies, and workers at the insurance giant Farmers Group threatened to unionize after the company's new CEO backtracked on its remote-work policy. But why is it so hard for leaders and employees to agree on remote work? Rising tension around remote work At first glance, the general feeling is that employees hold more reason to their claim as work-life balance has significantly increased, while leaders express concerns about productivity and collaboration. Some people argue that these concerns are unfounded. In reality, there are no conclusive reports supporting either side. The available reports with findings were mostly conducted during or shortly after the pandemic, a time when the impacts of mandatory remote work were still around. For instance, Upwork, the freelancer platform, discovered that “22.5% of surveyed managers reported a decrease in productivity, while 32.2% of hiring managers claimed an increase in productivity since their employees began working from home in 2020.” Google recently began tracking employees’ in-office attendance, and stories of employees being terminated for failing to adhere to RTO policies continue to increase. At the same time, high-profile executives like Elon Musk have openly declared against the home office but with no conclusive numbers to back these decisions. What do employees want? Remote vs hybrid work The workplace's rapid and dramatic transformation has affected virtually every professional in the world. Most surveys and reports made on the subjects are from a worker's point of view, which is why there are not that many numbers on productivity and efficiency that support leaders' concerns. The most recent report made by Stanford found performance was boosted by 22 per cent when employees from call centers were able to work from home. FlexJobs also conducted a Work Insights Survey in the spring of 2023 that explored workers’ attitudes around remote and hybrid work. With over 5,600 professionals responding, the study sheds some light on the impacts of recent workforce changes on physical and mental health. This study shows that 95 per cent of workers want some form of remote work but the preference for form is quite even: 54 per cent want to work fully remote, 41 per cent want hybrid arrangements, and 5 per cent want to work in-office full-time. An important factor to consider is the notable concentration of international workers on freelancer platforms such as FlexJobs, UpWork, and Freelancer. These platforms host a significant number of individuals working for companies located in different states or even beyond national borders. While outsourcing and offshore hiring are not novel concepts, their prominence has surged since 2020, driven by local economic dynamics and the allure of cost-efficient labor markets in South America and Asia. These remote workers naturally align with companies embracing fully remote frameworks. However, despite this alignment, there appears to be a growing preference for hybrid arrangements. The reported data indicates a significant 52 per cent of respondents believe that remote work either has no impact or has a positive impact on collaboration. It raises the question: Could negative press and pressure from leaders be influencing this shift in preference among employees? Remote work challenges for 2024 Without a doubt the biggest challenge will be to find the middle ground when it comes to remote and hybrid work arrangements and to do that, communication between the two forces is going to be paramount. Leaders want to rely on high-performance teams and workers don’t want to compromise on the well-gained ground of work-life balance. The real material discussion is going to revolve around: Excessive workload/working extended hours Navigating time zone differences Building robust work relationships and fluid communication with leaders Addressing technology challenges Managing non-work distractions The only thing that seems clear is that no one is expecting a full return to a five-day office week. But it also seems certain that the discussion will continue and it will take a long time to settle on a definitive suite-all arrangement. The author is an Industrial Engineer and the founder of Vintti.