Over recent weeks as politicians signal that societies now need to live with Covid-19 and have announced the lifting of distancing restrictions some high-profile CEOs have publicly called for their workforces to re-embrace the office as the Covid pandemic threat recedes. In short, they have asked employees to come back. It is their contention that face-to-face contact sparks creativity.

JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon said remote work "doesn't work for spontaneous idea generation, it doesn't work for culture." Saks' Marc Metrick has called remote work a "culture killer for companies," and that "the default needs to be our office”, and "Innovation isn't always a planned activity," declared Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.

Not all employees agree and a 2019 study by Harvard's Ethan Bernstein and Ben Waber (then at MIT), lends credence to some of their claims. The survey found workers at companies that switched from cubicles to open-floor-plan offices had 70% fewer face-to-face interactions. Office workers may talk, but "there is almost no data whatsoever" to suggest it helps the organization, Bernstein recently told the New York Times.  "All of this suggests to me that the idea of random serendipity being productive is more fairy tale than reality," he said.

Here at the Risk Channel we like to dive in over at Reddit the American discussion website for unfiltered opinions. Here workers are taking both sides of the argument and emboldened by the anonymity provided explain honestly and directly their respective positions. Agreeing with the CEOs, some pointed to the shortcomings of Zoom:

- "I found that Zoom meetings allowed me to have more of a voice. It is a lot more difficult to talk over each other in Zoom than in a conference room, which established a decorum that allowed everyone to have their say."

 - "Agreed. I work in game development, and the ability to collaborate and work through something by just dropping by someone’s workstation cannot be replicated on Zoom."

Others highlighted that lack of personal collaboration:

- "I can relate. Started a remote position a few months ago and it is incredibly isolating despite my team’s best efforts. I did not realize how much I learned from overhearing other people’s conversations in the office. I feel like I am trying to do a puzzle without the reference image."
- "I do not know about boosting creativity, but it boosts collaboration. I find impromptu hallway chats extremely beneficial for myself and for my teammates."

And, finally, one employee lets their frustration get the better of them:

- "Just release any employee that does not want to come back to the office. I am sure a lot of unemployed people will happily take those jobs."

The against coming back to the office lobby revealed some cynicism about the motives of the CEOs. A common theme was: “How many times are these CEOs in the workers' office area to boost their creativity?” More direct even were the following commentators:

- "Sociopaths just cannot stand having nobody to physically manipulate."

- "Managers are worried they are being exposed as irrelevant."

- "Because it is harder for me to lord my authority over you and cause stress by intimidation when you are not here."

- "Yeah... fluorescent lights, cubicles, and the constant anxiety of someone with more power watching you is a breeding ground for creativity..."

Others felt that it was the huge investment in real estate that drove the CEOs to recall staff:

Apple spent like $5bn on a new campus. Of course, they are going to make people come back to it.

Jamie Dimon: “Half of our portfolio is office real estate! Can’t let those property values collapse!”

And one wag observed:

"The only creative idea I ever got at the office was that I should get a job that lets me work from home."

And, finally, this Reddit user summed up the middle ground with this: 

“You know what boosts creativity? An interesting job. Regardless of where you do it from.”

Hybrid working is widely mooted as the optimum solution but - get ready HR! Deciding who works where and when and why could be the next workforce battleground.  Good luck.

Martin Knight, Industry Slice. 

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