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(Bloomberg)—Working from home can poison office relations because communicating virtually requires far more empathy than meeting people in real life, according to the chief executive of the real estate group JLL.

Christian Ulbrich said one reason staff should return to the office at least three days a week is because “conflicts are much easier resolved when people are together.”

Companies and governments are grappling with how much hybrid working is optimal after the mass working from home culture surged in the pandemic. Ulbricht said three days seemed about right so long as they are not Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

“The idea of flexibility is not to offer people a four-day weekend and three-day work week, it’s to tie that flexibility to your private life,” he said in an interview at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos.

Ulbrich argued that the main advantage of the office environment was that “it is much more productive when you need others” to do your job. “You get a better outcome if you are in a room together.” He added that he had learned from experience that it is easy to upset people accidentally on video calls.

“Another thing I have experienced, conflicts between people are much easier resolved when people are together in an office,” he said. “Whereas when you are on a video call it’s easier to miss that somebody is not happy with the way you are wording things, or behaving and in your facial expressions. There is a much higher need when people work remotely to be really focused on empathy with others.”

One industry that has particularly struggled to bring staff back has been the US “west coast tech companies,” he said.

“What’s happening is the labor market is so competitive that employees are being treated like popstars so they feel like they can do whatever they want. It’s bit of an attitude that you don’t want to come back to the office. This is uncool.”

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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