As Many Return To the Office, Will WFH Stigma Remain?

Young Latinx woman sitting at the desk in her Los Angeles apartment, working on the laptop or just having a nice day, listening to the music.
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Prior to the pandemic, many companies did not offer employees the option to work from home, and for those that did, there was often a stigma around employees who worked remotely. Although working from home has become the norm over the past year and a half, many Americans think that there will be a stigma attached to those who continue to do so once there is an option to return to the office. In fact, a recent LinkedIn survey found that 52% of professionals think there is still a stigma associated with working from home. But is this really the case?

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WFH Stigma Will Vary From Company to Company

“As companies begin to call employees back to the workplace, we’ll likely begin to see a larger divide between in-person and remote workers and how they view each other,” said Andrew McCaskill, a career expert with LinkedIn. “Remote workers are worried about how their commitment and productivity are being viewed by colleagues and supervisors. How companies are handling this division can make all the difference in how employees feel and in addressing this proximity bias — and it all starts with company culture.”

If a company makes it clear that they are fully embracing work-from-home culture — and follows through with this commitment by treating remote and in-office workers equally when it comes to opportunities for advancement — there shouldn’t be any stigma attached. However, if remote workers are left out of team-building activities and continue to get passed over for promotions, this will further perpetuate the stigma.

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Workers Can Take Steps To Negate WFH Stigma

Even if a company culture doesn’t fully embrace working from home, there are still ways remote workers can demonstrate that they are being productive and fulfilling all of their job responsibilities. The first step is “showing up” in a way that puts you on par with your in-office colleagues.

“It may sound simple, but be sure you show up — not just with your physical presence on calls and Zooms, but by being prepared to contribute,” McCaskill said. “Do the reading, do the prep, so that you can thoughtfully participate in meetings to really make your presence felt.”

McCaskill also recommends over-communicating what you’re working on.

“Share your goals for the week on Monday, send a mid-week check-in about where you are with your goals and a recap at the end of the week,” he said. “Keeping your supervisor in the loop about your progress can help put their mind at ease and give continued visibility into all the work you’re putting into the job.”

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There’s also nothing wrong with some humble bragging to make sure your superiors know what you’re accomplishing.

“Make sure to share your successes with higher-ups,” McCaskill said. “Your boss may not have visibility into the results you’re behind, so be sure to humble brag for yourself and your co-workers where you can. And be sure you’re reporting all your wins in the way that best serves your manager and your company’s ongoing reporting.”

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In Addition to Stigma, Remote Workers Are Worried About FOMO

The LinkedIn survey also highlighted other potential drawbacks for those employees who continue to work from home while other colleagues return to the office.

Twenty percent of remote workers are concerned they won’t develop as close relationships with their colleagues as those returning. In addition, remote workers are worried that they’ll miss out on fun at the office with their colleagues (19%) and on opportunities for advancement (18%), and 17% feel that it will be harder to be connected to their colleagues with fewer video meetings when others return to the office.

“We also know that one of the reasons employees are interested in going back to the office is for increased collaboration with colleagues,” McCaskill said. “According to a recent LinkedIn poll on what people miss the most about working in an office, the top thing people miss most is in-person collaboration.”

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Employees Will Have To Weigh Pros and Cons When Deciding How They Will Work

Although there are drawbacks to working from home, there are also a fair amount of perks.

“Flexibility is a top priority for professionals,” McCaskill said. “Specifically, 50% of U.S. workers say that flexibility of hours or location has become more important to them post-COVID when it comes to looking for a new job opportunity. That’s the fastest-rising factor, ahead of work-life balance (45%), benefits such as health coverage (41%), pay (36%) and work culture (36%).”

There are also mental health, physical health and financial benefits of working from home.

“Among professionals who worked from home during the pandemic, many felt positive mental health effects too — 44% said WFH had a positive effect on their mental health because they felt safe from COVID, and 31% said they felt happier at home,” McCaskill said. “What’s more, 39% said they felt less stress without the anxiety and pressure of a daily commute. There have also been some positive physical benefits to WFH — one-third of professionals who worked from home during the pandemic say their physical health was affected positively because they had extra time to exercise more often. Twenty-eight percent say they lost weight being away from take-out lunches, and 30% felt less stressed without a commute. The financial savings without a commute don’t hurt either!”

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Ultimately, employees will have to decide if the pros of working from home outweigh the cons — whether or not stigma is attached.

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Last updated: Oct. 25, 2021


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