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Houstonians Are Slowly Going Back Into The Office – But Many Don’t Want To

After more than a year of remote work, many workers are reluctant to go back to the office, even as the pandemic recedes.

Many workers who got used to working from home are reluctant to return to the office.

James Hendricks, an engineer for a Houston energy company, started working from home right when the pandemic took off in March 2020.

He said he appreciated being able to spend more time with his kids.

"When I go to the office, I leave at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning and I come home at 5:30 or 6:00 at night," he said. "So I don't get to see my kids for most of the day."

But then his company started calling employees back again — Hendricks had to be physically in the office for one week each month. And after getting used to not having to commute, the change didn’t cut it for Hendricks.

"After having not spent two hours in the car every day just to go to and from work, I don't want to go back to that, even if it's just one week out of the month," he said.

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So, Hendricks went to look for a new job — and he’s not the only one.

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In April and May, 7.6 million people nationwide quit their jobs. Some are calling this trend "The Great Resignation." And according to a survey by Prudential, 87% of American workers want to work remotely at least one day per week.

At Houston-based human resources consulting firm Insperity, senior performance consultant Jill Chapman said employers should be flexible if they don't want to lose workers. If employers insist on having everyone return full-time, they should explain why it's important for productivity, she added.

"Just arbitrarily saying, ‘we're all going to do this' – no questions, no conversation, no nothing – I don't know that that's going to be that successful," Chapman said.

Rick Marriner, an oil and gas trader in Houston, said he figured working from home would be the new normal after everything went remote during the pandemic. He added that his company's productivity didn't suffer after the transition — even after an initial dip.

But after going back to the office last month, he said he now sees the value of working with others in person, especially when it comes to communication.

"When you're in a conference room or you're sitting across the trading floor with somebody and they go, ‘that'll never happen,' you hear the sarcasm, you see the body language, you see the shoulders rise," Marriner said, "and you take it with the grain of salt it should be taken [with]."

However, when it comes to the pandemic’s impact on productivity, it’s not so clear-cut, according to research by management consulting firm Bain & Company. The data suggests overall productivity didn't change much when everybody worked from home — but it depends on the company.

"The best became a lot better and the rest became marginally worse," said Michael Mankins, a partner with Bain & Company in the firm's Austin office. "The result has been a widening productivity gap."

He said those corporations that were able to improve productivity capitalized on new technologies to stay connected with employees and clients. They were also able to attract new sources of talent thanks to less reliance on a singular location and have succeeded in keeping their employees engaged and inspired, he added.

"For those companies that were very poor at managing remote work, they probably should return to work – there's no question about that," Mankins said. "But they should ask themselves, what is it about their practices that actually undermines the full potential of their workforce?"

Additionally, Mankins said the increased use of remote work can actually help level the playing field for some companies that may not previously have had access to certain talent.

As for James Hendricks, the energy company engineer, he interviewed for a job that would have been fully remote. But in the end, he opted for a role at NASA as a contractor because he's long wanted to be in the space industry – and he won’t have to worry about traffic.

"The commute is much, much shorter," he said. "It's almost down the street from my house."

This story was corrected to reflect that Insperity is a human resources firm, not public relations.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is the News 88.7 business reporter and also covers criminal justice, guns and shootings.Florian's stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of...

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