Some of our well-informed readers may recall about a year ago there was some attention paid to the concept of “lying flat“ in China, where burned out millennials were becoming discouraged from vigorously pursuing an ambitious career. Now we see another incarnation of the doctrine in the form of “quiet quitting” which has been widely reported in the American press of late.

Contrary to the literal definition, quiet quitting is not in fact leaving your job, but refusing to perform extra work and confining your duties to eight hours a day with an absolute minimum of effort expended. This is frequently accompanied by a lot of mumbo-jumbo about people trying to find happiness and meaning in their work, although it is certainly preferable for people to enjoy their jobs and working environment.

We know there are many legitimate reasons for remote work. For example, many people have child or elder care responsibilities. Another excellent reason is that hard-working employees simply want to save time and money resulting from unproductive commuting. Accordingly, the opportunity to work at home for dedicated employees is a basic tool in the modern arsenal of human resources and forward-thinking management that want to retain their best people.

Now let me also point out something else that is not frequently discussed. Remote work is also a slacker’s paradise. While some use the opportunity for productive family reasons, others are surfing the internet, watching ballgames and doing God knows what else during working hours.

Take my husband Eric – please. After decades in the office at very demanding law firms, he revels in the opportunity to work from home every day. As a result, I can’t keep a good watch on that rascal as I don’t feel like investing in expensive spyware to catch him watching Tottenham soccer (football) games that I know he’s looking at anyway. However, the good thing is when he is working on non-Wharton matters he is usually exercising his mind to learn more about the world which benefits our company. The problem is with others this concern is not as benign. They are simply taking advantage of hapless employers who can’t keep track of what’s going on with the bottom 20% of their employees, making it much harder to police their poor performance.

So the return to office is not merely a matter of cost savings. I have seen the metrics and polls that claim that productivity is roughly the same with in office and remote work. However, Gallup’s 2022 report on the state of the global workplace found that only 32% of employees in the United States are engaged at work, while 17% are actively disengaged.

Gallup also reports that since the pandemic hit the decline in the percentage of engaged employees from 36 to 32% was evident across all three categories of exclusively remote, hybrid and exclusively on-site employees, but was highest for employees who are exclusively remote. It is therefore clear that remote workers need better and more frequent oversight, which many managers simply can’t provide online, no matter how many consultants tell them it is a must. As a result, it’s not just old school baby boomers who think people should be back in the office at least part of the time – it’s actually Management 101.

The progress that has been made towards normalcy will be on show as the new school year begins without the remote school and quarantine issues that caused so much family (and work) stress in the first year of the pandemic. This positive change will make in-office work easier for many. Further, I am optimistic that over time companies will find the right alchemy of hybrid work that that is best for their specific needs through the process of trial and error. But social and political events both at home and abroad remain volatile and unpredictable, and some might even say poised on a knife’s edge. Expect the unexpected, and that includes the future of the office. We’ll keep you posted as developments unfold.

Thank you,

Ruth Colp-Haber