James Bailey, Professor of Leadership in the School of Business at George Washington University, discusses whether workers will continue pushing for the “right” to work remotely, even with the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 150,000 federal government workers in Canada recently struck for 15 days over the right to work remotely. When the strike ended, however, they had failed to have that concession written into their contracts. So is there a “right” to work remotely?
“I don’t think it’s a right. I think it’s a privilege,” Bailey says. The employer dictates where it needs the employee to work. And while that decision can be negotiated, it isn’t an “inalienable” right, he says.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which triggered a months-long lockdown, spoiled some of those workers who were forced to stay home, Bailey believes. But while they benefited from a less structured working environment, they lost the ability to collaborate with fellow employees on the spot.
Bailey agrees with IBM chief executive officer Arvind Krishna, who has said a person’s career could be harmed by that individual being fully remote. But the actual impact on the employee depends on age. Baby Boomers were somewhat drawn to remote work; Millennials loved it, but it was the Generation Xers who most wanted to get back into the office. That’s because they’re at a point in their careers when being in the office is essential to building the relationships with friends and colleagues that are needed to advance in the organization. Between the ages of 35 and 50 “is when you get really good at what you do,” Bailey says. “That’s when your career blossoms.”
In the coming years, many workers will be returning to the office, but Bailey believes we’ll never get back to the old model of work. In fact, he says, alternative work arrangements have been progressing for at least the past 20 years, and will continue to do so.
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