Remote work, which the pandemic lockdowns required, seemed poised to become the new normal. But the trend has started to reverse itself as more and more employers are requiring employees to return to the office at least a few days a week.
Workers found that by working from home, they could be more productive. They could also eliminate the cost of commuting, eating out at lunch, and wearing pants, and they’re predictably balking at return-to-office mandates.
We’re hearing from employees who complain that in-office mandates feel arbitrary and lower morale. “Driving all the way into the office to sit and work alone in a cubicle doesn’t make any sense at all. I’m wasting time and money just so my manager can look over my shoulder to be sure I’m working.”
Employers do seem to be losing trust that remote workers are actually working as hard as they would in an office environment. James Clarke, founder and CEO of Clearlink, a tech company based in Utah, spoke out against remote work in a video that mandated a return to the office. He said many remote workers are “quiet quitters,” and that he had received reports that 30 remote workers “didn’t even open their laptops for a month.”
The struggle over in-office, remote, and hybrid models is causing a problem for hiring managers, especially those who want to recruit and retain young workers whose careers may have started off as completely remote.
Nearly 7 in 10 employees (68 percent) said they would rather look for a new job than return to the office, according to a survey from Clarify Capital, a financial consultancy in New York City that surveyed more than 1,000 remote workers. That figure is even higher among Generation Z workers; 79 percent said they would quit rather than go back to fulltime office hours.
Those who do return may be likely to ask for raises to compensate for the added expense. Inflation has significantly impacted earnings with everything from the cost of food and gas to housing rising almost 17 percent since 2020. According to SHRM, more than a quarter of employees (27 percent) said they would try to negotiate a higher salary if they were asked to return to the office. Just 5 percent said they would be OK with returning without salary negotiations.
Managing a workforce that’s resentful, feeling poorer, and getting less sleep doesn’t sound like a formula for innovation and great performance. So some leaders are looking for alternatives that creativity and energize employees.
Chris Kay, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, a London-based global marketing firm, writes for Fast Company about how creative workers in particular need autonomy to nurture fresh thinking. He says that mandatory office hours that feel arbitrary to workers stifle creativity and engagement.
He writes, “One [hybrid work] trial is a work flexibility model we call “2+2+1.” It provides a guide for the work week, defined by the different project teams and the project requirements to be their most effective. The guide suggests two days in the office when collaboration is needed to create optimum results for the project, two days where the employee chooses to work based on their needs for deep work time to ensure those concentrated creative tasks can be delivered, and one day out in the real world, be it a coffee shop, art gallery, or public workspace. That ensures external stimulation away from home or the office to receive real-world creative stimulus.”
Companies that simply mandate a number of in-office days are finding that workers resent directives without justification for the in-office requirement. And personnel studies have found that one-size-fits-all hybrid work models are more likely to lead to decreased engagement, productivity, and retention than frameworks that allow for greater employee choice and negotiated schedules.
If you’re thinking about ordering your workforce to return to the office, make sure you give them some choice and flexibility on how often and when they come in. Schedule meaningful activities that are most effective and enjoyable when done face-to-face. Put the emphasis on connection, and you’ll eventually win people over.
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