A Blog by Jonathan Low


Aug 24, 2021

Why People Would Rather Quit Than Stop Working Remotely

It's not just that staying home or working remotely is so much more enjoyable. Data increasingly reveal that a majority of employees did not enjoy office culture where they worked so remote work is not just easier or more convenient, but less stressful. JL 

Sophia Epstein reports in Wired:

Searches for remote work have increased by more than 500% since February 2020. And job postings mentioning remote work have increased by 180%.  Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index found that 41% of employees across the globe are considering leaving their current employer this year and 46%  say they’re likely to move because they can now work remotely. A survey found only 25% have an excellent or outstanding time in the office. “About a third have a pretty rank experience." So it’s no surprise so many are choosing to stay home.

Not a day goes by without another company announcing a delay in its return to the office. Chevron, Facebook, McDonald’s, even JP Morgan have all pushed back their plans to later this year or even 2022. But pressing pause may only postpone the fallout from employees who have grown used to the perks of remote work.

“I get to spend much more time with my family, at least three hours more every day,” says 43-year-old SEO manager Christian Hänsel, who quit his job in June to steer clear of the office. “To get to my last job, I’d have to drive an hour every day, which is not much but it was an hour that I couldn't spend with my family.” To avoid that commute, Hänsel found a new role at a remote-only business. Now, a job ad for his old position is online. “They wrote in the job offer ‘100 per cent remote’,” he says, “but you have to live within a range of 100 kilometres.”

Twenty-nine-year-old Amardeep Parmar left his job in tech consulting to focus solely on the writing he started during the pandemic. “I definitely didn't plan to quit my job for it, but it blew up a lot more than I expected,” he says. “Obviously, with the pandemic, I had a lot more time.” As soon as the vaccination program started ramping up, Parmar knew going back to the office was imminent. “I knew I had to decide between three different things: I could either quit work, my social life, or the stuff I was doing on the side,” he says. So he handed in his notice. “The biggest thing for me was not having regrets.”

Remote work during the pandemic provided some people with their first taste of better work-life balance, and unprecedented time to spend with their families or hobbies. Now they aren’t willing to let it go. According to data shared by global job site Indeed, searches for remote work have increased by more than 500 per cent since February 2020. And job postings mentioning remote work have increased by 180 per cent, now totalling ten per cent of job posts on the site.

“After a difficult 18 months, we know people have taken time to re-evaluate what’s important to them,” says Indeed economist Jack Kennedy. “As the virus lingers it’s highly likely that remote work will remain popular as we settle into new and seemingly permanent ways of working.”

Totaljobs, a UK-based job board, has seen a 40 per cent increase in searches for roles that offer remote options, which it considers a “sharp rise” as remote work made up around 15 per cent of its listings since the start of 2019. “The world of work has undoubtedly changed,” says Totaljobs content head Stephen Warnham. “For those employers who are looking to fill vacancies right now, I would encourage them to consider adding remote working or other flexible options where possible in order to appeal to a workforce who are increasingly seeing this as an essential element of a job offer.”

But many employers aren’t ready to let the office go. A large portion of companies are keeping quiet about their plans, says Chris Herd, CEO of remote work platform Firstbase, because there’s a competitive advantage to do so. The big tech companies, however, don’t have that luxury. “They don’t have a choice,” Herd says. “They need to be public about this.” And the giants that have committed to an office return have seen immediate push back.

Google axed the option of permanent remote work in December 2020, in a memo explaining that all employees “will be expected to live in commuting distance of your assigned offices”. Just five months later, CEO Sundar Pichai backtracked a little, but not enough to keep all his engineers happy. “Spoken to quite a few colleagues at Google that say they’ll quit if forced to go back to the office in September,” Google Cloud programmer Chris Broadfoot tweeted in April. His statement was backed up by six Google employees speaking anonymously to Insider. One explained: “A lot of my colleagues have moved away with no real intention of coming back.”

Herd says this isn’t just a Google problem. “Every CEO that I’ve talked to has acknowledged the same thing: If they try and pull people back to an office full time, they will have a competitor that takes the diametric opposite position to what they do,” he says. “Companies that go back full time are going to bleed all their best people to their most fierce competitors,” he says. “It’s going to lead to what I imagine will be the highest period of turnover between companies in history.” Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index found that 41 per cent of employees across the globe are considering leaving their current employer this year and 46 per cent say they’re likely to move because they can now work remotely.

Some businesses are combatting the employee push for continued remote work with a pay cut. In June, Facebook announced every employee could continue working remotely forever, but may see their salary fall if they move too far from the office. Twitter, Microsoft and Stripe are all employing location-based pay grades. A leaked Google memo, featuring a company pay calculator, showed employees leaving the Bay Area could have their salary cut by 25 per cent – even if they moved to a similarly priced area.

A new Colorado law requiring salary transparency in job ads has resulted in dozens of technology companies excluding remote workers in the state from searches for job candidates, according to an investigation by media company CyberScoop. This suggests an otherwise hidden discrepancy in pay between in-office and remote roles.

In London, several government departments have reportedly considered removing the London weighting (about £4,000) from the salaries of employees who no longer wish to commute into Whitehall – though the official government line remains that there are no plans to dock anyone’s pay. If that changes, it will imply that legislators believe that where someone works is more important than how well the work is done.

“It's highway robbery, isn't it?” says Tim Oldman, CEO at Leesman, a workplace insights company. Employees aren’t naïve; they know how much money companies will save on office space and amenities if they work from home, at least they know it’s a lot, so asking them to take a pay cut in response is insulting. “Frankly, if I was one of those employees, I’d be participating in the Great Resignation,” he says, referring to the millions of workers who have already quit their jobs.

Remote-only firm GitLab openly, and thoughtfully, adjusts its pay scale based on each employee’s location. Julianne Gendrano quit her long commute to work there as a support engineer way before the pandemic set in. She currently lives in the Bay Area, which is at the top of GitLab’s salary scale, but if she decided to return home to Boston, she’d face a pay cut. “It’s not a serious consideration for me yet because I don’t plan on moving,” she says. “But you never know, so it’s always something that hangs like a cloud over my head.”

When the pandemic began, some of her out-of-town colleagues decided to leave. “We did have people on my team go and chase other opportunities because of the fact that they could get a similar opportunity without the downside of the cost of living adjustment,” says Gendrano. So, any salary adjustment, no matter how considered, could cause remote workers to flee.

Other businesses have gone in the opposite direction, reimagining their office strategy entirely. Standard Chartered Bank, for example, is planning to cut its office space in half by 2025, while at the same time promising that the experience at the remaining real estate will be “twice as good as it was pre-pandemic,” says Oldman. Boston cybersecurity firm Rapid7 is following a similar strategy, he explains. “They’re saying, we’re cool with wherever people want to work. But we’re going to provide such a good workplace, that you’d be bonkers not to come here.”

This may actually be the best way to get people back in the office, data shared by Leesman suggests. “Out of all of the slicing and dicing we could do across 250,000 employees, there’s one single biggest motivator for employees to return to the workplace,” says Oldman. It’s not age, gender or location. “It’s the quality of the experience that they have when they get to the corporate work setting.” If they like the office, they want to be there four days a week, if they don’t, it’s one day at most.

Of course, offices aren’t usually joyful refuges. A Leesman survey of 850,000 employees found only 25 per cent have an excellent or outstanding time in the office. “About a third have a pretty rank experience,” says Oldman. So it’s no surprise so many are choosing to stay home.


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