The future of work: remote or back to office?

The future of work: remote or back to office?

The way we work and how we will work in the future is changing. Companies are navigating back and forth between the flexibility of remote work and controlled on-site work. Currently, more and more companies are requiring their employees to return to the office at least a few days a week and are encountering resistance, employee attrition and "quiet quitting".

Returning to the office and developing a long-term remote working strategy requires a clear understanding of how organisations structure the flexibility of remote working and what works best for employees.

This is because many employees do not necessarily want to return to the office, as a survey among employees shows. On the other hand, more and more companies are stating that they do not want employees to work from home. So what does the future of work look like? Remote or back to the office?

Resistance to back to office

Most employees are reluctant to spend more than two days in the office. The majority would like the right to work from home. This is shown by the "State of Hybrid Work" survey by Owl Labs.

Companies are currently increasingly bringing their employees back to the office, but according to the survey, most employees are only partially enthusiastic about this. Although 46 per cent of full-time employees are working completely in the office again, only 18 per cent of those surveyed actually want to do so. 64 per cent of the 2,000 employees surveyed prefer hybrid working.

What should the hybrid working time model look like? 40 per cent would prefer structured hybrid working with fixed home office days, while 24 per cent are in favour of more flexible home office solutions. A whopping 18 per cent of respondents would like to be able to work completely remotely. Further findings from the "State of Hybrid Work" survey by Owl Labs: a majority (61 per cent) would like the right to work from home. 51 per cent already work in a hybrid model.

Other studies have also come to similar conclusions. Employees who are able to work remotely would prefer to do so most or all of the time. A Gallup survey of remote workers shows that 34 per cent of respondents want to work remotely full-time, 60 per cent want a flexible, hybrid model and only six per cent want to work in a traditional office environment. A McKinsey survey of all employees, whether remote or not, found that a majority of respondents want to work in the office less than half of the time. And a survey by the School of Politics and Economics at King's College found that 25 per cent of respondents would quit if they were forced to work full-time in the office again.

How many days in the office and how many days working from home do employees prefer?

39 per cent of those surveyed in the "State of Hybrid Work" study want to work two days in the office and three days from home. 34 per cent are in favour of the reverse split. 14 per cent of respondents are in favour of one day in the office per week and four days working from home, while 13 per cent would prefer to spend four days in the office and only one day working from home.

However, according to the study, employers should be careful with overly strict requirements for working in the office. This is because employees are quite willing to change jobs if they work less flexibly. If employers suddenly ordered a full-time presence in the office, 33 per cent of those currently working hybrid hours would look for a new job with a hybrid working model, while a further 33 per cent would comply with the order, but say they would be unhappy and less productive. As many as seven per cent would quit their job and 13 per cent would expect a salary increase from their employer to compensate for the additional costs.

How companies can entice their employees back to the office

According to the survey, employers should create attractive incentives to encourage employees to return to the office. 29% of the employees surveyed would like their employer to provide free or subsidised food and drink. 26 per cent would like the company to cover commuting costs, for example as an employee benefit in the form of a job ticket or a mobility budget. A further 13 per cent of respondents would like to see dress codes dropped.

Companies expect a return to the office

However, a majority of CEOs of large companies expect a complete return to working from home as in pre-pandemic times, according to a recent survey of 1,300 managing directors conducted by consultancy firm KPMG.

Almost two thirds of the CEOs surveyed are in favour of a full return to the office within the next three years. In order to achieve this, the CEOs also want to create more incentives: 87 per cent say they would reward employees who return to the office with promotions or salary increases.

Another study, however, concludes that many employers now regret their original decision to return to the office. According to a study by Envoy, around 80 per cent of over 1,000 managers surveyed regret the decision to return to the office after the pandemic. They cite their lack of understanding for the needs of their employees as the reason for this.

Nevertheless, the call for a return to the office is becoming louder and louder in many industries. This is particularly evident in the big tech companies: Apple, Google or Meta have been requiring their employees to be in the office at least three days a week for several months now. Even the video telephony provider Zoom, which has only become big thanks to the home office in recent years, is ordering its employees back to the office.

Reasons for the return to the office

Why do many companies want to see their employees back in the office? According to the Envoy study, the most important factors in the decision to return to the office are measuring success and secure office space planning. Long-term property investments and high office rental costs are forcing many companies to return to the office because, according to the respondents, it is impossible to estimate how many employees will use the offices in the future. In fact, according to data from WFH Research, offices are only half occupied compared to before the pandemic.

If you ask employees, the reason for returning to the office is more likely to be due to employers' traditional views on the workplace. This is what 47 per cent of respondents to the "State of Hybrid Work" survey by Owl Labs believe.

What the question "remote or office?" is actually about

The question of "home office or office?" is actually about trusting that the needs of employers and employees are in the right balance. However, many people (on both sides) have lost this trust in the course of the pandemic. This is what makes it so difficult to negotiate compromises on how to work together in the future.

What bothers many employees about the new office obligation for companies is that they feel patronised. When employers decide in favour of a return to the office, they suggest that they know better than they do how to perform best. This reinforces an image that emerged among employees during the pandemic: that their employer will only cater to their needs when it suits them.

On the other hand, some companies are realising that the idea that everyone could work from anywhere was an illusion anyway. Some employers initially relied on "remote" and "work from anywhere" because they wanted to prevent staff turnover and employee attrition.

Certain things such as informal or creative exchange, mutual support or identification with the employer can certainly suffer if colleagues are only seen in virtual meetings and the right measures are not taken to promote remote collaboration. However, employers will find it difficult to bring employees back to an office that is supposed to thrive on inspiration, dialogue and creativity with harsh announcements and paternalism.

Instead, companies should consider the values and needs of their own employees in order to encourage and retain them. In concrete terms, this means not forcing employees to return to the office.

Stefan Wendering
Stefan is a freelance writer and editor at NAVIT. Previously, he worked for startups and in the mobility cosmos. He is an expert in urban and sustainable mobility, employee benefits and new work. Besides blog content, he also creates marketing materials, taglines and content for websites and case studies.