The Return-to-Office Era Is Here, but Who’s Ready to Go Back?

3 min read

June 19, 2023

When it comes to working in an office, the “new normal” is starting to look a lot like the “old normal” – at least, it would if certain major employers had their way with a renewed return to office (RTO) mandates. Even companies like Disney, JPMorgan Chase, and Amazon, which had previously allowed remote or hybrid work schedules, are now pushing for more in-person days each week.

This next stage in the evolution of work comes from research showing that remote and hybrid employees are happier, more productive, and less costly to employers than their in-office counterparts. So why do their bosses want them back at their desks?

The push for RTO in the US coincides with the COVID-19 public health emergency expiration. Many large firms are also undergoing rounds of layoffs and seeking to consolidate their remaining workforce. Practically, it’s easier to manage operations when all employees are on the same schedule.

Some CEOs believe their employees are more collaborative when they work together in person. For example, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, who believes in-office work is better for spontaneous decision-making and efficient communication, expects attendance to return to pre-pandemic levels by the fall.

With the popularity of hybrid work, companies need to give employees reasons to return to the office. Most employers entice workers with incentives like catered meals, commuter benefits, and raises. Others, however, are less encouraging: 21% of employers will fire employees who don’t comply with RTO policies.

A Bittersweet Return For Many Employees

Returning to the office is a trade-off for many. Workers have come to prize the work-life balance of a hybrid schedule and are even willing to trade salary for flexibility and more time with their family.

On the other hand, some remote employees feel more isolated and burnt out than their in-person colleagues. They’d instead make the commute to the office in exchange for personal relationships and real-time interactions.

Remote and hybrid employees have higher engagement levels than those exclusively on-site, as found in a February 2023 Gallup poll on hybrid work. A two- or three-day in-person workweek seems to be the sweet spot for most, especially workers whose jobs require collaboration with their colleagues.

Workers who have some say in their schedule are significantly more engaged than those whose schedules are handed down from on high. Employers demanding a full return to the office might sacrifice employee satisfaction in exchange for in-person workdays.

While RTO in one form or another may be in the future for most workers, there are some dividing lines between the workers who prefer to return to the office and those who see the benefits of working from home.

Who’s Looking Forward to Going Back…

It might be a surprise, but the newest workers are most excited about returning to the office. Members of Gen Z, who spent a significant part of their young adult lives over virtual interactions, prefer in-person work significantly more than their older peers. Nearly 90% of those who want to be in the office say it makes them more productive.

Although they still prioritize flexible schedules, recent graduates are concerned about losing in-person benefits like interpersonal skills and career development. They’re afraid of missing the team culture from being in an office, and – since many still live at home or with roommates – need dedicated spaces for focused work.

Other employees may have missed career boosts and advancement opportunities while working from home. They prefer spontaneous creativity and collaboration in in-person work over virtual communications.

And while executives are eager to get junior employees back to the office, only some require senior staff to return in person. Financial institutions like JPMorgan mandate that all managing directors work on-site, setting an example for their team members.

…And Who Would Rather Stay Remote

Remote and hybrid work was a welcome relief for many facing job challenges. Women, people of color, and people with disabilities are far more likely to resist a full-time RTO due to the social pressures of working in person.

Only 3% of Black knowledge workers want a complete return to the office, found the Future Forum’s Remote Employee Experience Index. Remote work helps to minimize the microaggressions, discrimination, and constant self-monitoring that can infiltrate workplace environments, no matter how accepting their policies are.

Primary caregivers are also more likely to be adversely affected by the elimination of a flexible schedule. At the pandemic’s beginning, women often took reduced hours or sacrificed their jobs to care for young children, and returning to the office would strain their families.

No matter the reason for wanting a hybrid schedule, most workers still prize flexibility and feel most satisfied when they can work remotely or in person. Despite major calls for RTO, a hybrid model remains the best way to retain employees.

Unified Communications Can Ease the RTO

On-site and remote employees need the same thing: to feel like they are making meaningful connections with their colleagues while being productive at their jobs. Even as the balance shifts to more in-person days per week, facilitating communications is essential so everyone is equally included regardless of location.

A robust collaboration platform helps teams work together in the office or at home. Employees can build strong relationships with coworkers by chatting over text, brainstorming over video conferences, or collaborating on shared documents.

Using the same software in the office as at home eases the transition between the two spaces, so employees will feel comfortable performing their jobs from anywhere. Learn how Mitel’s collaboration tools bring teams together.

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