The changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic forced many Americans to embrace working remotely.

Should employees return to the workplace?

2020 challenged our HR teams with twists and turns. It seems extremely possible that 2021 will continue to produce more challenges to face. For now, a lot of our organizations still have “work at home” orders in place. The new coronavirus vaccine moves into full production and distribution, putting us at ease in some ways. We can look forward to the day employees can return to the work-site.


Working remotely: what are the drawbacks?

Admittedly, there has been a lot written on the safe return of employees during the current pandemic, and it is not my intent of this article to add to that discussion.  However, it is my intent to look through the lens of human socialization and employee innovation to discuss the importance of employees returning to work when the researchers recommend that it is safe to return.

As the time nears, I hope that our field will take the time to learn more about the impact of employees returning to work versus staying virtual permanently.  We are living in a time of change in employee working conditions. We are charged with the responsibility of discussing long-term impacts on our employees and organizations. Thankfully, technology has allowed our organizations to continue moving forward.  In many cases, technology has allowed us to keep employees working.


Employee isolation is a problem when working remotely.

However, the ability to work remotely and the use of live video meetings have also created a sense of isolation that can become destructive for our organizational climate if we don’t step in and plan.  Prior to being admitted to Zoom meetings, employees would bump into each other in the hallways, stay after a meeting, or meet up for coffee or lunch conversations.  These organic and often spontaneous conversations tend to produce some of the best innovations. But now, we sign into our video stream, attend a meeting, and sign off as soon as the meeting is over.  This is leading to employee isolation. It’s forming individual silos from other team members and departments.


Do the benefits of working remotely outweigh the drawbacks?

I agree virtual working environments have many benefits to employees and organizations.  The continued decision for employees to work from home should consider all the outcomes, not just the upfront cost savings.  There are many long-term implications to virtual working. There is the chance that organizational productivity, effectiveness, and innovation may decrease. If our HR departments are faced with keeping employees remote, we must find ways to have our employees organically socialize again.  It is time for our own HR innovation.


Want to know more?

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— This story is written by Dr. Matthew W Hurtienne, Dean of the School of Business at Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor.

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