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Is the Great Reset Button Stuck?
Following the pandemic, where remote work arrangements appeared to be a permanent fixture, employers are now pushing their employees to return to the office.
I've been quite busy with various commitments recently, which has unfortunately limited the time I could dedicate to creating content for Substack. I understand that you may have been looking forward to more regular updates, and for that, I sincerely apologize. In the coming week, I expect to have more time and energy to focus on delivering the quality content you deserve.
In Moscow, the Center for the History of the Russian Diplomatic Service takes pride in safeguarding a curious gift presented by then United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, during a 2009 meeting in Geneva. It was a symbolic button meant to signify a reset in the relationship between the two countries.
However, the device bore the Russian word "перегрузка" (peregruzka), which means "overload," instead of the similar-sounding but correct translation "перезагрузка" (perezagruzka), meaning "reset." Similarly, recent significant changes in the post-pandemic workplace worldwide suggest that the highly publicized Great Reset of capitalism is increasingly seen as an overly burdensome concept for humanity, likely to be stashed away in a virtual cabinet of curiosities.
On a personal note, there will be certain topics that I can only share with my paid subscribers to my Substack newsletter. This is why I'm currently offering a substantial discount on annual subscriptions, ensuring that as many people as possible can access all the content at an affordable rate.
I'll need to exercise greater caution in what I choose to share, as any public statement on the Internet that offends European bureaucrats could lead to serious repercussions.
This predicament extends to every other independent journalist as well. For a considerable duration, the Internet provided an avenue for ordinary individuals like you and me to disseminate truth to a world hungry for it.
However, the gatekeepers are now asserting a stringent level of control, forever altering the landscape of the Internet.
THE VISION FOR A GREAT RESET: BLENDING EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES WITH HUMANITY
In June 2020, just months following the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the World Economic Forum (WEF), in collaboration with the Prince of Wales, launched the Great Reset Initiative. Its core concept aimed to harness the dynamics of the unprecedented global health crisis to implement profound and enduring changes to global capitalism, thus preventing a recurrence of the Great Depression.
Contemplating the post-pandemic landscape, Klaus Schwab, the CEO of the WEF, rejected incremental, ad-hoc, and short-term solutions. Instead, he envisioned a systemic revolution that would entail sweeping transformations across all nations, facets of society and the economy, and various industries.
The comprehensive Great Reset Transformation Map, which encompasses several interconnected categories, demonstrates that this vision also encompasses a facet of the future of work: the reconfiguration of job roles.
In pursuit of his ambitious vision, which he described as "unprecedented," Schwab advocated for the following three overarching priorities within the framework of the Great Reset agenda. These priorities partially build upon ideas he had previously articulated before the pandemic:
Initiatives aimed at fostering more equitable market outcomes.
Investments directed towards achieving common objectives such as equality and sustainability.
Harnessing the potential of the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" for the greater public good, particularly in the realms of healthcare and social progress.
In a 2015 Foreign Affairs article, Schwab conceptualized the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a series of profound advancements that would “benefit humanity.” This transformation would result from the convergence of emerging technologies in the realms of the physical, digital, and biological domains. It follows in the footsteps of the three preceding industrial revolutions, which were driven by innovations in mechanics, electricity, and digital technology, respectively.
THE TELECOMMUTING SURGE: IN SYNC WITH THE GREAT RESET AGENDA
During and immediately after the pandemic, the world of work experienced notable transformations that resonated with the objectives of the Great Reset. In terms of job design, the ascent of telecommuting—a form of extended social distancing—challenged the traditional dominance of the office as the primary locus of work-related activities.
As a manifestation of social influence, where individuals followed prevailing trends, the proportion of working hours dedicated to remote work surged from 5% before the COVID-19 pandemic to a staggering 60% in the spring of 2020 (Economist 2021). Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom characterized the remote work phenomenon as “the most significant shock to labor markets in decades.”
While work-from-home (WFH) rates diminished post-pandemic, they appeared to stabilize at around 30%, a level significantly higher than pre-COVID times. Concurrently, a “Great Resignation” wave emerged in early 2021, as dissatisfied employees sought new career paths.
Management experts swiftly concluded that work patterns had permanently shifted, anticipating the rise of numerous remote-only companies driven by a “Zoom culture” across a wide spectrum of industries, along with persistently reduced office occupancy rates.
Apart from cyclical factors, such as diminished employer bargaining power in a competitive labor market, the structural and behavioral reasons for these speculations encompassed:
Swift advancements in telecommuting infrastructure and improved tools, both in the office and at home, along with associated sunk costs.
Enhanced proficiency of both employers and employees in utilizing remote work technologies.
The perceived success of telecommuting, coupled with employees' purported preference for WFH (including the avoidance of commutes and the ability to work more flexibly).
The trend of relocating farther away from the office, resulting in longer commutes.
The formation of enduring habits and potential significant legal changes, such as the right to work from home.
However, the linear projections pointing toward a new equilibrium characterized by considerably more telecommuting than office work, in alignment with the comprehensive (and, some might argue, dystopian) vision of the Great Reset, ultimately proved to be inaccurate.
REVISITING THE GREAT RESET: OFFICE MANDATES SIGNAL A COUNTERMOVE
Toward the close of 2020, certain leaders, particularly within the technology and finance sectors, began diplomatically encouraging employees to return to physical offices, at least on Fridays, in an effort to counter the trend of adopting a four-day workweek with extended weekends, which had gained considerable popularity. The preferred approach was one of incentives.
One of the early advocates for the return-to-office initiative was David Solomon, the CEO of the investment bank Goldman Sachs. In 2021, he vehemently opposed the notion of telecommuting becoming a new norm, denouncing it as an anomaly that he was determined to rectify. Indeed, by October 2022, he successfully transitioned 65% of his workforce back to a five-day workweek, as opposed to the 75% before the pandemic.
As time passed, corporate executives grew more assertive in their directives, culminating in a significant turning point in the seemingly relentless mega-trend curve around the onset of 2023. At that juncture, a substantial group of leading multinational corporations, including JPMorgan Chase, BlackRock, and Disney, issued comprehensive mandates for a return to the office, often resorting to a more authoritative approach rather than relying on incentives.
In a decisive crackdown on telecommuting and the associated flexibility it offered, corporate leaders issued stringent office directives, accompanied by stern warnings of severe consequences for non-compliance. They also implemented rigorous monitoring of office attendance, including the scrutiny of entry data obtained from swipe-based access systems.
Coincidentally or not, this resurgence of in-office expectations aligned with a wave of significant layoffs at prominent post-industrial companies like Amazon, Meta, and Alphabet.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, publicly condemned telecommuting as “morally wrong,” presenting employees with the ultimatum of committing to at least 40 hours of in-office work each week or seeking alternative employment.
Citigroup employees who failed to adhere to the new office mandates faced substantial repercussions, while a spokesperson for Google indicated that the tech behemoth might consider reducing the compensation of employees working from home. Lloyds announced its intention to monitor office attendance electronically.
According to an extensive study conducted by Goldman Sachs, by May 2023, the percentage of U.S. workers partially engaged in remote work from home, while still significantly higher than the pre-COVID average of 2.6%, had approximately halved to a range of 20-25% from its peak of 47% during the height of the global health crisis.
According to recent research, which anticipates a further decline in work-from-home rates, office utilization rates have, quite unexpectedly, not experienced a significant drop. This surprising trend can be attributed, in part, to companies being bound by long-term lease agreements. Remarkably, despite the advancements in remote work capabilities, only approximately 15% of U.S. workers are exclusively working from home, as noted by Stanford economics professor Nick Bloom.
A significant milestone in the resurgence of office-based work was marked by a momentous decision made by Zoom, a leading provider of videoconferencing tools and a cornerstone of the telecommuting revolution. In August 2023, Zoom announced a mandate requiring its employees to spend a minimum of two days per week working from the office.
This striking reversal, initiated by a company that played a pivotal role in facilitating remote work, can be likened to the fanciful notion of Mercedes-Benz urging its employees to commute to work on bicycles instead of their renowned luxury vehicles.
Furthermore, Zoom's about-face, essentially rejecting the utility of its own products, evokes memories of Steve Jobs, who refrained from allowing his children to use the iPad, deeming it “too dangerous” for them.
In light of this significant and unexpected return to the office, it's crucial to inquire: What are the underlying factors driving this massive shift back to the office?
The true power to shape this world has always lain in your hands. Choose well!
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