The real reasons why your boss wants you back in the office

Do not index
Do not index


In this article I’m going to shit all over remote work. Before this happens, I want to mention that I’m a 🫲 BIG BELIEVER 🫱 in remote work.
  • I believe that even with all its problems, remote work has a net benefit for both employees and employers.
  • I believe that remote work will become the standard across the majority of jobs.
  • I believe remote work will completely change the way we see the world’s workforce as nations would become irrelevant ( when it comes to jobs ).
I myself, practice remote work and I can’t imagine going back to the office. Here’s a quote from my previous article on remote work:
I spend ~6 months of the year “traveling”, and ~6 months in my home base 🏡 ( Sofia, 🇧🇬 Bulgaria ). There is no difference in productivity. The only difference is I don’t have to choose between chasing my dreams and enjoying life. I don’t stay in the office daydreaming, I just go 🪁 Kite for 2 hours and get back refreshed. That’s the beauty of working remotely. That’s the freedom of being an entrepreneur.
With all that being said, remote work has its issues (to say the least). And If we want remote work to prevail we need to discuss and resolve those issues.
Otherwise, we’ll probably find ourselves locked inside the office prison once again.

Companies are afraid to talk about real issues

As soon as the pandemic was over, the majority of companies started plotting on how to bring people back to the office. Some examples:
If you read corporate memos about returning to the office you’ll see the same message over and over:
Blah blah blah culture, blah blah blah collaboration, blah blah real innovation happens in a room
But… here’s the deal:

Culture is not defined by free pizza in the office

I don’t know if anyone buys this BS, but having a nice office with tasty snacks and a massage therapist doesn’t define your culture. Printing your good-sounding-nothing-saying values on the wall doesn’t do it either.
Culture is about answering questions like: “What do we do differently than other companies?”, “How do we make decisions, what do we prioritise?”, etc.
None of those questions require an office or a physical space.

Innovation doesn’t happen in a noisy room. Innovation happens in silence.

Before I worked remotely, I worked in an office. I can’t recall a single instance when we gathered a bunch of people, we started shouting and drawing on a whiteboard and we came up with a genius idea. This happens only in the movies.
In reality, innovation happens in the following setting:
  • There’s a big problem to be solved
  • A person sits down and splits this problem into smaller bites
  • A group gathers and discusses the big picture
  • Everyone gets a bite of the problem and works on it in silence
  • After some time the group gathers, connects the pieces together and repeats the process
So if culture isn’t defined by an office and innovation happens in silence… why are CEOs gaslighting their employees? Because if they say their employees are slackers they will face an armed rebellion 🗡️👩‍🌾🔥.
Working in an office comes with automatic supervision and peer pressure.
Remote work doesn’t have those properties, so it’s easy for employees to take advantage of the company. And in some cases to cause real damage.
And yes, yes - you and I are honest employees with remarkable work ethic - but let’s be honest: do you believe that all of our colleagues have the same work ethic as we do? 😉

The real reasons why your boss wants you in the office

Humans are slackers by default

Here are two cynical statements that make a compelling argument together.
  1. Humans are hardwired to follow the path of least resistance. ( proof )
  1. A job is an arrangement where
    1. The worker is incentivised to do the least amount of work without being fired
    2. The boss is incentivised to pay the worker the least amount of money to prevent them from quitting.
Sure, you can slack in the office too. But when you are in the office, you at least have to pretend to be working - when you are remote - you don’t have to pretend at all.
An overwhelming majority of remote workers report being more productive when working remotely. That’s probably true - as they don’t have to commute, talk shit with their buddies at work, and get interrupted all the time, but that doesn’t mean they’re anywhere near maximum productivity.
I’m surrounded by remote workers and let me tell you, anecdotal evidence shows all kinds of activities that employers are paying for, including:
  • Having sex
  • Reading books
  • Going skating, biking, working out…
  • Sleeping
  • Doing dishes, laundry, & other household chores
  • Traveling between destinations
  • Picking up their kids from X
  • Watching their kids
  • etc
None of those activities scream productivity to me. And no employer is happy paying for them.

The majority of remote workers work multiple jobs

According to a survey made by
  • 7 out of 10 remote workers have multiple jobs
    • 37% of remote workers work 2 full-time jobs
    • Other 32% of remote workers have a part-time side hustle
  • Half of those report working 40 hours ( or less ) per week ( two jobs combined )
notion image
There are literally whole communities dedicated to people working multiple jobs like
The folk at Overemployed even have a list of 10 commandments, with the first one stating:
Hence our first commandment: hold a minimum of two jobs and always be interviewing. You’re more than welcome to do more than the minimum. 3-4Js is the sweet spot for many in our community.
3 to 4 jobs. That’s insane. 🤯

Remote makes it easier to quit your job

Going to work in an office comes with some side effects, like
  • Making friends in the office
  • Organising your life around the office
    • Getting a nearby apartment ( sometimes )
    • Going to a gym, barber, coffeeshop nearby
    • Sending your kids to the office daycare
    • Etc
If you change your job, you also have to let go of your friends. You have to change your habits. You have to rip your child from their comfortable environment.
There’s a switch cost to moving from one company to another. And that makes you less likely to leave. If you work remotely, the switch cost is lower.

Aside from all the productivity issues, remote work can cause legal issues to companies just because their employees work from another jurisdiction.
When you are hired, your employment is dictated by the jurisdiction of where you work. It takes care of your rights, taxes, and so on.
If you decide to relocate and live in another country for example, your employer might get in trouble for employing residents of that country without a local entity.
If you get hit by a bus in another country during work hours, your employer may be liable for failing to provide you with a “safe work environment”.

What’s the problem if I do my job well?

Usually, when I share my arguments with remote employees they take it personally and ask what the hell is my problem - their tasks are finished and their boss is happy!
The problem is that you are hired to work a certain number of hours of per week, not to do a certain amount of tasks per week. If you are slacking or working multiple jobs, you’re essentially stealing work hours from your company. And your manager knows that.
Let’s not get into the argument if work-hours is an adequate metric for employment in today’s world. I agree it’s outdated, but 99.9% of employment contracts pay for hours worked.

The work prisoners’ dilemma

In most companies, work never ends and it can’t be done fast enough. They’re always striving for maximum productivity. The “weekly tasks” objective is a proxy of what an average employee can achieve in a week. It’s a classical prisoner dilemma:
Adaptation of Prisoners’ dilemma for work by me.
Adaptation of Prisoners’ dilemma for work by me.
The illustration above is an over-dramatisation of how work objectives are set.
  • If everyone works hard the amount of work they need to do increases
  • If everyone slacks the amount of work they need to do decreases
  • If some people work hard and others don’t, the hard workers are rewarded while the slackers are punished
The main goal of most managers is to raise the productivity average as much as possible so they can get maximum work done for dollars. Changing the work environment is one of the main tools at their disposal. Maybe you think it’s evil, maybe you don’t - it doesn’t matter. It’s business. The same way you want to get the most dollars for work done.
Returning people to the office is not about getting them to complete their tasks on time. By returning people in the office, managers are hoping to pit employees against each other, to get them in a competition mode and raise the productivity bar.
After all, if everyone else is working hard in the office, would you be skating under the sun at 2pm? Even though, you’ve finished your tasks early today…

What’s the solution?

I can tell you what isn’t the solution - forcing people back into the office against their will.
The problem with using the prisoners’ dilemma on your employees is that they will literally feel like prisoners. Nobody wants to be a prisoner by choice. And good employees have a choice.
The solution is for companies to find ways to incorporate:
  • Better supervision
  • Peer pressure
  • A sense of belonging
  • Hard stops on damaging actions ( e.g. employees putting the company in legal risk )
While letting their people be free.
notion image

If you represent a company that’s facing some of the issues I discussed above and are looking for a solution to the problem - let’s talk. I’m exploring the topic and would love to get into more details with you. You can connect with me via Twitter / LinkedIn.

I share my thoughts and experiences from the startup journey on a monthly basis. If you want to be updated when I post new stuff, subscribe to my newsletter or follow me on Twitter / LinkedIn.