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The Great Resistance Analyzed

Two years after the pandemic forced much of the American labor force out of the office and into work-from-home mode, many workers have learned something: they liked the change. No commute. More time with loved ones. Flexibility to run errands or handle appointments. The benefits of remote work are undeniable, perks that many workers had never before experienced – and are now reluctant to give back. It’s being described as The Great Resistance: workers who, after being sent home during the pandemic, are reacting to the current push from employers to return to the office by pushing back themselves.

What does it mean for business? How about labor? And, particularly, independent contractors? Let’s investigate.

Employees Hold the Upper Hand During the Great Resistance

It’s no secret that today’s workers are enjoying virtually unprecedented leverage in the employer-employee relationship. Many companies, after retrenching or completely shutting down due to Covid, have struggled to ramp up production again and are experiencing The Great Resistance. An eagerness to re-staff, combined with retirements and pre-retirement age employees choosing to leave the workforce entirely during the pandemic – also known as The Great Resignation – have created a record-high number of job openings. Meanwhile, organizations have been scrambling to offer higher salaries, improve benefits and generally bend to the will of labor in order to attract the best talent and dissuade current employees from looking elsewhere.

But many business leaders seem to be drawing a line in the sand when it comes to work from home. In May, a leaked email from Elon Musk mandating a minimum 40-hour in-office week for Tesla employees contained the stern subject line “Remote work is no longer acceptable.” (Asked to consider the stance of Tesla employees who were critical of the policy, Musk tweeted that “They should pretend to work somewhere else.”) JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has made similarly dismissive public comments, saying in one interview that “people don’t like commuting, but so what?”

No matter how impatient employers may be with the labor market’s shift toward normalizing remote work – and the logistics issues it can raise – antagonizing employees (especially in this moment) is a dicey approach. Also: It won’t do any good. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 76 percent of people with access to an office who are instead working from home say they’re doing so because they prefer it – up from 60 percent in 2020. The genie is out of the bottle. Remote and hybrid work, like them or not, are here to stay.

Opposition to an Office Return: an Opportunity for Businesses 

There are some valid reasons for employers to urge workers back into the office. Some businesses require on-site labor in order to operate, the vast majority of whom have already returned. Others simply run more efficiently when staff is able to make smoother project handoffs and collaborate in a shared workspace. A recent study even found that remote work yields fewer creative ideas than the typical in-office model.

But rather than staunchly opposing work from home, companies should consider finding ways to embrace it. In many cases, it’s possible to find a reasonable compromise even when a full remote option for every employee isn’t feasible. At the very least, offering WFH Fridays or a set number of monthly remote-work days per employee signals to workers that a company hears them and acknowledges the new paradigm. Turning a “So what?” into a “So where?” can be the difference-maker that helps a company attract  and retain the best employees.

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