Cartoon collage of a worker running, or zooming, from one place to another carrying a briefcase.
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Return to office or remain remote? Don’t Zoom to conclusions

8 Aug 2023

Is the news that Zoom is telling its staff to come into the office at least two days a week a cause for concern for fans of the fully remote model?

Video conferencing software company Zoom made a bomb of money during the pandemic when it became the ‘go-to’ platform for a lot of businesses to conduct meetings. But a few days ago it emerged via a report in Business Insider that the company has said it wants staff to come back into the office.

The new mandate will apply to all workers living within 50 miles of a Zoom office. The policy is not too dissimilar compared to the return-to-office policies other tech players have been adopting as the necessity for fully remote models wanes. For example, Apple expects its teams to come into the office at least three days a week, a move which lost the company its head of machine learning.

Zoom is reportedly calling its new policy a “structured hybrid approach” but it may not go down too well among workers that like working remotely 100pc of the time. There’s also the fact that Zoom is so closely associated with remote working, an identity it has been very willing to embrace thanks to the favourable impact on its bottom line. The announcement from a company that is so intrinsic to all things remote working is sure to ruffle a few feathers. It may even cause some to ask if the development is a sign of the end of the era of remote working.

Remote working is far from over

It might be wise not to speak too soon. Just because Zoom is following a market trend of bringing a more hybrid model (as opposed to fully remote) does not necessarily mean remote working is over. For one thing, there are so many people fully wedded to the idea of remote working that they will walk if their wants are not listened to – just look at Apple’s former head of machine learning.

A survey released today (8 August) found that Ireland is a major centre for people who want remote working, meaning return-to-office policies may be a little bit harder to sell here. The survey was carried out by BNP Paribas Real Estate Ireland (BNPPRE), which used Eurostat data to inform its analysis.

More than three times as many people habitually worked from home in Ireland in 2022 than they did in 2019, according to the data. Of the 27 EU member states, Ireland came out on top when it comes to remote working. In 2019, just 7pc of Ireland’s workforce said they “usually” worked from home and this figure soared to 25pc in 2022, the biggest percentage point increase of any EU country. Other countries that embraced remote working included Malta, the Netherlands, Germany and France. According to the data, the Netherlands has the highest percentage of its workforce engaged in remote working (more than 50pc), however, Ireland is leading the charge in terms of how rapidly remote working is taking the place of traditional office-based work.

“Ireland’s adaptability throughout the pandemic has been remarkable in many ways, not least the ease with which businesses and employees alike adjusted their working models,” said John McCartney, BNPPRE’s director of research. He also commented on the results’ impact on the real estate sector and the demand for office space. “In line with a wider European trend, Irish organisations are typically now seeking less, but better quality office space. This is driven by sustainability objectives and a need to optimise the employee experience in a tight labour market.”

Returning to the matter of Zoom for a moment, it may be the case that the company is not making a grand statement about the end of remote working. Like a lot of tech companies, Zoom laid off staff recently. In February of this year, it cut 1,300 jobs as part of its post-pandemic ‘reset’. Perhaps the post-pandemic reset reasoning is more of a valid explanation for such an uncharacteristic decision by Zoom, the poster-child of remote working. As data has shown, many Irish and European workers are fully onboard with remote models and it shouldn’t be assumed – by employees or by companies – that this is going to suddenly change overnight.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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