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Career & Money

Time Is Currency: 'I Gave Up Thousands To Keep My Remote Position'

Workers across the nation are pushing back against companies' widespread rollback of remote positions after the pandemic revolutionized the way we work. For nearly three years, workers settled into a new routine that included Zoom calls, comfy clothes, and a short commute from the bed to their workspace. Yet, fast-forward to today, companies are reversing course and pushing the return to the office and on-site meetings, luring workers with promises of the benefits of face time with their boss and employers and sometimes even higher salaries.


A report from LinkedIn shows the number of job openings offering remote work is declining. In March 2022, remote-focused listings accounted for more than 20% of job postings, but that number dropped to 14% in November of that same year.

And still, workers are saying "no” to returning to the office after years of adapting to remote work and proving they can effectively and efficiently complete their jobs from home. Many are refusing to once again get in their cars for long commutes and once again outfit their closets with business wear.

xoNecole spoke to two women about their experience navigating the once remote-friendly environments that are quickly morphing into hybrid or full-time in-office roles.

Dalal

Dalal calls herself a “pandemic cliché.” The journalist left Atlanta with her laptop in hand and returned to her hometown in Chicago at the start of the pandemic, not knowing it would be years before she returned. She moved home to pitch in more, joining the nearly one-fifth of U.S. workers who are caregivers in their families, according to the Rosalynn Carter Institute.

After being at home for nearly two years, she got the call to return to the Atlanta office and found herself reluctant to return. "I started to explore the possibility of staying remote," Dalal shares. "I was immediately offered a job that paid more and was local in Chicago."

Q: Initially, you hesitated about returning to the office but then found an in-office opportunity that on paper, looked too good to pass up and still allowed you to stay in the same city as your family. How did you reconcile going back to the office and the return to the same in-office pressures you had left behind?

A: I lasted three months in that new in-office role before I put in my notice. I actually went back to my previous company and was offered a remote role if I came back as a freelancer. As a freelancer, the pay is lower, there’s less stability, and your salary is solely based on the days you work, and I gave up vacation time. But now, I am able to say “no.” No, when I need to take my mom to a doctor's appointment. No, I don't want to do the 4 a.m. shift. If I had stayed full-time with my steady office job, I wouldn’t have that flexibility.

"Now, I am able to say 'no.' No, when I need to take my mom to a doctor's appointment. No, I don't want to do the 4 a.m. shift. If I had stayed full-time with my steady office job, I wouldn't have that flexibility."

Q: After going from remote to an in-office job and then back to remote, what benefits did you find in remaining WFH?

A: Having that quiet time alone to focus on my position. My quality of work didn’t go down, it went up. Not only can I do this job, but I can do it really well without [the] distractions that come along with the office space where everybody is freaking out about 40 different things. There are people coming to your desk asking for things that are not so immediate, and it gets to the point where you can't really focus on the work.

Working remotely, you can literally turn off your phone, mute team chats, and start to learn to prioritize what is important and what is not.

focused-Black-woman-sitting-at-desk-working-from-home

Anchiy/Getty Images

Q: Are there any regrets about losing or missing out on that in-office experience?

A: You always see job opportunities out there. I could be making so much more if I move to New York or back to D.C. But then, I’ll also be paying $2,400 a month in rent, which I'm not doing now. Then there are the other expenses, during the gas crisis, it would have cost me $3-400 a month. Then there are the silly things, like if I get hungry, I just go make myself a sandwich. Whereas in the office, I’d maybe spend $15 a day on lunch just to have that peace of mind away from my colleagues. Also, there’s the added cost of dressing professionally, which is something I really had to worry about in D.C. that I don't have to worry about at home.

Q: In the push to get workers back in the office, is there anything you feel like employers actually lose out on?

A: During the pandemic, people became available all of the time. Let's say my shift starts at 7 in the morning, but if you text me at 6:30 a.m. I still might respond because the lines are more blurred at home and not as concrete as working an 8-hour shift in the office and going home and turning off your work phone.

Q: We’re seeing massive layoffs and a rapid decline in remote roles. How should other workers approach staying firm with their decision to stay remote?

A: In careers that are focused on status, the next big role, or your next big organization, there's always going to be something for you. Opportunities always evolve. You just have to figure out the balance between what's most important at that point in your life. Be confident in the work that you're doing and your abilities, and constantly put yourself out there. Don’t be scared.

Chelsea

Traditionally, tech workers have had a wealth of access to remote roles even before the pandemic. Today, that dynamic stretches across both occupations and demographics across the board. Flexibility is now in demand, and despite the efforts of employers to win employees back into the physical workplace, Americans are keen to remain at home no matter the cost. A study by Goodhire found that 61% of those surveyed would take a pay cut to maintain remote working status.

xoNecole spoke to a tech professional, Chelsea, an operations project manager, on navigating the now-changing landscape for tech workers who once had the upper hand in remote roles.

Q: What’s your experience been like in tech?

A: I've been remote most of my career with heavy travel, so while I'm not in an office, half the month I'm either on site or in a different city. The tech world crumbled during the pandemic, and I got laid off twice. I ended up taking a great role at the end of 2020 that financially was the most I've ever made.

Q: So you’ve finally landed this incredible role. What happened when the call to go back into the office came?

A: I got anxious. Initially, this company sold the job as a remote role, and then a year in, they said we’re going back into the office.

Q: Wow! So they misrepresented the job? How did you handle going into this role thinking you would be remote and then being called into an office you were never supposed to see the inside of?

A: It's manipulative, but I think that it's going to happen more and more as we get further away from the pandemic. After it was announced we would be going back, I got anxious! I was in a unit that called itself innovative and prided itself by saying they would remain remote. But companywide, there was a mandate to return to the office, and that included my unit.

On top of that, I struggled with connecting with my coworkers. They were all a lot older than me, they were all married and just at a different stage of life, and there wasn't much diversity. So even though I was remote and it was a great role, I was miserable thinking about returning to the office with people I did not connect with.

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Maskot/Getty Images

Q: How did you handle essentially being told remote work was no longer an option and you would have to go into the office?

A: I made a bold move and reached out to a company I’d connected with previously but had turned down. I asked if they would still be interested in me as a candidate. They didn’t have anything immediately but eventually made an offer.

Q: How did the new offer compare to your current one?

A: Overall, it was a 25% pay cut, thousands less, and still, it was a no-brainer for me. It has been the best decision that I have made. It was still fully remote, included travel, and the people have been amazing. I have the best connections with my coworkers even though we’ve never met in person, we still hop on Zoom and cackle together. Despite the pay cut, I’m happy with my choice.

"It was a 25% pay cut, thousands less, and still, it was a no-brainer for me... Despite the pay cut, I'm happy with my choice."

Q: For many, the idea of a pay cut is taking a step back. What were the conversations you had surrounding your decision?

A: My partner is very big on negotiating and not making lateral moves, so it didn’t make sense to him. But this role is a better fit all around, and even though it's less money, you can’t buy happiness.

Q: You accepted a pay cut to remain remote. Why was that important for you?

A: Flexibility! On my calendar today, I blocked off two hours. You know what it's for? A kindergarten graduation. Going back into the office, I would have had to take PTO or check in and let everyone know where I was going and when I would be back. Now, I just put a block on my calendar that says I’m not available. I can work from out of town or go out of the country, and as long as I have my laptop and my phone, I can still get my work done.

On top of that, it’s the realization that eight hours sitting at a desk is not the most productive for me. Sometimes I’m more productive after the traditional hours of 9-5, and being remote gives me that flexibility.

Q: Like so many others, you found yourself at a company that walked back their initial remote policy. Has this new company expressed that they, too, will go that route?

A: We’re a national company with locations across the country, and everyone, including leadership and central team members, work remotely. The only way I go into an office now is when it’s my choice, and I’ve been very frank with my boss that if it was a set requirement to come into the office, I would find another job. I don’t ever see my company going back in the office, and it’s a plus because it allows for a wider pool of talent, and we all bring different ideas and experiences to the team.

Q: What advice can you offer on having the confidence to make choices that not everyone agrees with when it comes to your career and staying in a remote role?

A: I would say, “Don't focus on one single career.” Every kind of career path has remote work, not just tech. Ultimately don't be afraid to leave.

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Featured image by Olena Kovalova/Getty Images

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