For Jay, remote work is worth the price he paid.
Throughout the pandemic, Jay, an elder millennial, had been working remotely for a government agency. His employer deemed his work completely portable and provided him the option to keep working from home after the office reopened. But there was a catch: He had to live within two hours of an office.
“As things began opening up and it was determined that we’d be full-time telework, they were not going to get rid of the two-hour rule,” Jay, whose last name and employment are known to Insider but being withheld, said.
That soon became untenable because Jay wanted to move closer to his family, especially his father, who was dealing with a neurological disease.
“He’s getting older and is going to need us to be around more to help take care of things,” Jay said. “It’s just getting exhausting driving four to five hours back and forth every weekend to do things around the house.”
Even though Jay said he worked productively remotely, his employer’s two-hour rule forced him to choose: quit or transfer to a different job within the same agency. It would be a pay cut and a step down in seniority, Jay said, but it was within two hours of his new spot. So he went with that, opting for what he said was about a $35,000 pay cut — which brought his salary below six figures. Insider verified this role change and decrease in pay, and is withholding Jay’s last name and industry over fears of professional repercussions.
While it was still “pretty good money,” Jay said, it did amount to a “huge pay cut.” Eventually, he left the agency altogether for a new job, making a little more but still in the five figures. Today, he works almost entirely remotely and has to commute two hours only once a week — something he’s happy to do if it means he can keep his job.
Jay is one of many workers contending with shifting rules around in-person and remote work. For some, those arrangements just don’t work — and, like Jay, some workers would take a pay cut to be able to stay remote. While some companies could be using stricter rules to quietly trim their employee counts, they could also be chasing away good employees and limiting their talent pool.
“I just kind of wish that employers would realize that talent doesn’t just live within a certain radius of an office,” he said.
Bosses say remote work is over, but workers aren’t ready to let go
Companies’ tunes have changed since 2020, when CEOs trumpeted how the remote-work revolution was here to stay. Now more bosses are tossing aside their remote-work evangelism and calling their workers back in. That may be shortsighted, Jay said.
“People who sit at the computer all day, and that’s literally their job — sit at a computer and review records, whether they be financial records, medical records, whatever — it can be done successfully from anywhere,” he said.
Several workers Insider has spoken with said they were more productive at home and quit over return-to-office mandates. The research on whether remote work is less productive is mixed, though, and for some, it may be a better fit than for others. But in cases like Jay’s, he said he wished employers understood that working from home was a boon.
“I’ve proven that it can be done successfully remotely, and I wish they would allow employees the flexibility to do that as they also try to live their lives as well because we all have lives outside of work,” he said.
Even so, there’s a concerted push from more employers to get employees back. Jay said his previous managers, for instance, “were completely in favor of remote work” but told him “this decision is out of their hands.”
“It’s also a political issue as well,” he said, adding: “I think there’s a push from local governments to try and get people back in the office. I also feel like there are some politically wealthy political donors out there who own commercial real estate who want their rents to continue.”
Already, there’s an “office apocalypse” raging in some cities, with McKinsey predicting remote work will slash the value of office buildings to the tune of $800 billion by 2030. Even in 2020, nearly 200 influential business executives in New York City called upon then-Mayor Bill de Blasio to help them by addressing quality-of-life issues so they could, in part, convince workers it would be safe to come back to the office.
While Jay said management was understanding and sympathetic to his situation, the line was that the rules were the rules. For him, that meant having to change up his whole work arrangement over a geographic requirement.
“I honestly feel like my life was kind of being treated like a political football,” he said.
Are you quitting over a return to the office, or have you pushed for policies to get workers back? Contact this reporter at [email protected].