Even in 2023, remote working continues to be an enduringly divisive topic. Yet whilst it has its vocal critics, it’s not going anywhere.
Around half of all employers offer some form of remote working currently, and 64% of workers would actively consider quitting if the option was taken away from them, according to Zippia data.
And why would you take it away? It boosts morale and wellbeing, 68% of the workforce prefer it to office working, and 83% of employers believe that operating at least semi-remotely has been a huge success.
The answer is likely to be paranoia. The idea that your staff are sitting on the cough with their feet up whilst your profitability drops.
This was the view of Utah-based digital marketing company Clearlink’s CEO James Clarke, who this week made headlines for managing to single-handedly destroy his own company’s culture in the space of a conference call.
Like many other firms, Clearlink responded to the mass shift to home working post-pandemic by taking the opportunity to hire outside of the talent pool in their own location, and explicitly stated to staff that, whilst the office would remain, they could work from anywhere.
A relatively recent memo to staff stated that “whilst [Clarke’s] hope is that anyone near the office takes advantage of this incredible space, there are no plans to require anyone to work in the office”.
Breaking the remote working commitment
However seemingly the economic volatility had, in Clarke’s case, changed his outlook on employee wellbeing. In fact, following a reported round of layoffs, the CEO told staff that ‘circumstances had changed’ and that staff within 50 miles of the office would now be required to the office for a minimum of four day out of the week.
It’s this decision that led to a surreal digital townhall, in which the CEO not only lashed out at staff, claiming that they weren’t working as hard from home, but even alleged that some 30 employees had not opened their laptops for a month, and accused many of having multiple jobs.
“I challenge any of you to outwork me, but you won’t,” he added.
The dog incident
The final nail in the cultural coffin came shortly after these statements, when Clarke chose to emphasise his points by praising one employee for selling his family dog – as he would no longer be in the house to look after it – as a direct response to the demand to return to the office.
“I am all in, and I know that many of you are all in too on the mission of this company,” he said when mentioning the employee who had to sell their pet.
A failure to see employees as people
Whilst the case of Clearlink and its CEO James Clarke is uniquely surreal, many companies have revoked the right to work remotely recently.
The likes of Disney, Apple, Starbucks, Google and Goldman Sachs have joined a rallying cry from anxious leaders to get employees back into the office and under the watchful eyes of their superiors.
For employees however, the revelation that productivity could be upheld at home, whilst also remaining in your own environment with the ability to care for pets, fit life admin around the working day and do away with commute times meant that being frog marched back into the office was a deal breaker.
In Clarke’s case, the selling of a family pet due to remote working paranoia at the hands of the CEO shouldn’t have been a point of pride, but a sign that he wasn’t taking the complex needs of his people into account.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that, if a valued member of your company is having to choose between a beloved pet or working for you, you’ve put them in a terrible situation as an employer.