7 Essential Recommendations for Returning to the Office or Staying Remote

More and more workers are returning to the physical office, opening a slough of new questions about office politics and policies. Columbia experts weigh in.

Kelly Moffitt
July 12, 2021

If you’ve returned to the office recently or are currently in negotiations for when exactly that might be or how exactly that might be, this article is for you. 

In the early spring of 2020, when the pandemic hit the United States and most corporate workplaces sent their employees home, many remote work policies and practices were developed off the cuff. Today’s return to office plans? Not so much. While there are some unknowns about how the traditional office will operate, there are many HR, office politics, and hybrid considerations we can prepare for. 

This article sums up seven essential pieces of advice straight from the Columbia faculty working at the forefront of this return-to-office, staying-remote, or hybrid revolutions. Here is exactly what you’ll need to consider going forward.

1. For In-Office Workers, Desk Assignment Is More Important Than Ever (Forbes)

Elizabeth Friedman

Elizabeth Friedman, Assistant Professor, Columbia Business School 

“Just being in a place where your manager sees you and talks to you more often can contribute to what’s known as the availability heuristic,” says Friedman. “The availability heuristic leads to an unconscious bias in which people replace judgments, such as who would be best for this task, with assessments of how easy something is to bring to mind. Somebody you see more often will be easier to bring to mind, and you therefore may be more likely to give them extra responsibility without realizing it.”

Read the full article.

2. Intentionality is the Key to Preventing Office Cliques From Reforming (Financial Times)

Tomas Chamorro Premuzic

Tomas Chamorro Premuzic, Business Psychology Professor, Teachers College

“Humans are hierarchical by nature, and the office always conveyed status and hierarchy — car parking spots, cars, corner office, size, windows,” Chamorro Premuzic says. “The risk now is that, in a fully hybrid and flexible world, status ends up positively correlated with the number of days at the office.”

Read the full article.

3. Beware the ‘Motherhood Penalty’ (CBS News)

Dan Wang

Dan Wang, Associate Professor of Business and Sociology, Columbia Business School

“Mothers tend to have it worse largely because of the hidden costs on their time," Wang says. "And one thing that this shift to a hybrid work environment might do is exacerbate the very same disadvantages that mothers tend to experience, which has to do with their disconnectedness from the workplace due to demands on their time. They might be given the option of flexibility, but that comes with a tradeoff, which is that social relationships in the workplace tend to weaken." 

Read the full article.

4. Know Your Rights When It Comes to the Covid-19 Vaccine in the Office (Forbes)

Holly Helstrom

Holly Helstrom, Adjunct Instructor, Fu Foundation School for Engineering and Applied Science

"Helstrom advised that employers are within their legal rights to require employees to get a Covid vaccine, '... if you work for a private sector at-will employer. This is a product of how U.S. labor law and the Constitution are written. Employers can and have fired employees based on lifestyle choices related to their health, including if they smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. Refusal to get a Covid vaccine if your employer is requiring one could get you fired and your employer would be within their legal rights to do so.'"

Read the full article.

5. Should Where You Work Affect Your Salary? (CBS)

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky, Professor of Leadership and Ethics, Columbia Business School

"In negotiations, you can get a better deal for yourself — and have the other side see you as flexible and cooperative — when you offer choices," Galinsky says. "You can be aggressive and ambitious in your first offer if you present it as choice."

Read the full article. 

6. Energy costs rising at home with remote work? Here's what to do. (CBS News)

Vijay Modi

Vijay Modi, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Fu Foundation School For Engineering and Applied Science

"Modi, who studied residential energy consumption in New York City during the pandemic, estimates that workers who remain home this summer during the eight hours they'd usually spend in an office will consume one additional kilowatt of energy per day. 

"That translates to an additional 20 cents a day, or four dollars per month on average, according to Modi, based on the average Manhattan apartment size and the kind of occupancy he expects this summer."

Read the full article.

7. What to say in an interview when asked 'Would you rather work from home or the office?'

Alexandra Carter

Alexandra Carter, Clinical Professor of Law, Columbia Law School

“Employers know this is on people’s minds,” says Carter, director of the Mediation Clinic at Columbia Law School and an expert in negotiations. “We just went through a pandemic that basically de facto renegotiated the standard employment contract.”

Read the full article.