Companies want employees in the office, but most workers prefer a hybrid or remote work arrangement
Employers are starting to backpedal on return-to-work policies
At long last, the Covid pandemic is finally releasing its stranglehold on our lives. We see it as we visit restaurants and movie theaters, walk along city streets and notice people gathering in crowds, and even buy tickets to concerts and plan international travel. It feels good to see life returning to a sense of normalcy in our personal lives, but office life has forever been transformed. The pandemic forced most companies to adopt remote work policies and, while employees initially had mixed feelings about this, many grew comfortable working from home and even enjoyed the flexibility to do things like walk their dogs or conduct conference calls from their backyard patio on a sunny day.
Work life indisputably changed during the pandemic, but most companies are now eager to bring employees back to work (if they haven’t already). Recent labor shortages, however, are making most employers reconsider their return-to-the-office plans or at least approach these plans with a bit of grace. While 68% of employers say workers should be in the office at least three days a week, the same percentage of Americans prefer remote work to in-person work and 38% want full autonomy over when to come into the office. That’s not to say that employees are completely unwilling to return to work – 87% of workers agree that the office is important for maintaining company culture.
A hybrid working model seems to be the clear favorite among most employees at 61%. While 49% of remote workers returned to the office in 2022, 54% of hybrid workers would consider leaving their job if asked to return to the office. Since labor shortages have been a growing issue in several dominant industries (especially hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing), many companies are backpedaling on policies requiring workers to return to the office and are now proposing flexible arrangements and other incentives. For example, some companies are allowing employees to continue working remotely, either full-time or part-time. Others are offering higher pay and more generous benefits, including signing bonuses and unlimited time off. Many companies – some reports indicating as many as 45% – have extended child care benefits.
Some experts attribute labor shortages to several factors, including pandemic-related labor market disruptions and a disconnect between skills employers are seeking and those that workers actually possess. It is also conceivable that prospective employees found better opportunities during the pandemic in the form of entrepreneurship or more flexible employment elsewhere. Whatever the reasons, most companies are struggling to fill open positions and keep their businesses running smoothly.
In order to keep their businesses operational, executive leadership is beginning to recognize the value of employee flexibility. In a post-pandemic world, most workers have come to appreciate working from home thereby avoiding long commutes and enjoying a better work-life balance. By offering remote work options, companies realized they can attract and retain talent that is unwilling to commute long distances or relocate for a job.
Employers could also be discovering that traditional office-based work may not be necessary for all jobs. Many companies have found that remote work has not negatively impacted productivity and that their employees can be just as effective working from home as they are in the office. This epiphany has caused employers to more diligently reassess what jobs require in-person collaboration and what can be done remotely.
While labor shortages are causing companies to rethink their policies on office-based work, a recent report by McKinsey & Company indicated that companies would do well to tailor their responses to the specific needs of their employees:
“Gone are the days when simply focusing on compensation, job title, and financial security was enough to keep most of a workforce satisfied. Leaders need to identify the discrete workforce segments (traditional workers, nontraditional employees, working parents, early-stage employees, late-stage employees, and so on) in their organizations and tailor employee value propositions that are specific to those groups.
It isn’t about giving people money or work–life balance or purpose; it’s about providing any or all of those things in the proportion that’s best suited to a particular segment. The trend toward remote work and flexible work arrangements is likely to continue as companies recognize the value of employee flexibility and the potential for remote work to increase productivity. As the labor market adjusts to a post-pandemic world, it will be interesting to see how companies continue to adapt to these changes.”
(Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi)
Kristin Schuchman, MSW is a career counselor, business coach, and author based in Portland, Oregon who works with creative and mission-driven professionals. She writes resumes and coaches individuals seeking support for career indecision, next steps, work re-entry, advancement, starting a business, and work-life-balance. She offers a free 30-minute Zoom or phone session and presently works with clients in-person in Portland and remotely. You can find her books The DIY Website Workbook and Jump Start: How to redirect a career that has stalled, lost direction or reached a crossroads on Amazon.