Blog post

Is the workforce headed back to the office?

The global pandemic pulled the rug out from under our feet, leaving companies scrambling to figure out how to manage a remote workforce overnight. A year and a half later, massive vaccine rollouts have made it feasible to return to the office in many places, however, there is a sense that the way we work has changed permanently. HR managers are left wondering what’s really happening in the market—are people returning to the office? Do they want to come back? What would remote or hybrid work models look like in the long term?

These are complex questions, and there is no consensus on the answers. Some managers believe that working from home diminishes collaboration and company culture, and some employees miss the social connections in the office and find it hard to create a separation between work and personal life when working remotely. However, others have found that they can work more effectively from home and are glad to eliminate cumbersome commutes and gain time with their loved ones.

So, where is the future of work headed? No one can predict the future, but the data gives us some clues. 

We’re all still figuring it out (but remote is part of the equation)

The tech world often looks to the corporate behemoths for guidance and benchmarks, but at this point, they aren’t even providing clear-cut answers.  Apple employees were required to return to the office three days a week beginning in September 2021. 60% of Google employees are now working on-site several days a week, 20% are onsite full time, and an additional 20% are fully remote.  

On the other hand, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, declared in May 2020 that Twitter employees could work from home forever. Facebook didn’t go that far, but as of June 2021, they are letting employees submit requests to work from home in the long term. The smaller players seem to be sticking to remote models as well. 

According to data from Compete, 83% of tech companies in the US are still working remotely exclusively, and the rest are implementing a variety of hybrid models that include 1-4 days a week working from home. 

Only time will tell which policies are maintained in the long-term, and which prove to be the most successful both in terms of attracting top talent and driving productivity. It’s almost like a controlled experiment for the world to watch and track—as long as it’s accompanied by robust data.

The battle for talent is raging, and remote is a major factor

Unemployment was staggering at the height of the pandemic, and the simple principles of supply and demand led most experts to assume that it would be easy to fill positions as the market reopened. They were wrong. In many countries, unemployment is still high despite an almost unprecedented number of job openings. Even more surprising, people are resigning from their jobs en masse in a time of absolute uncertainty, a phenomenon researchers have coined “The Great Resignation” or TGR.

In the tech industry, TGR has exacerbated the already raging war for talent. Following the pandemic, many employees are reevaluating their work situation and placing greater importance on the ability to work from home and their availability to care for family members. Other people moved during the pandemic, either to be closer to family members or to find more comfortable places to shelter in place. Higher salaries are not enough to convince them to return to the expensive urban hubs where they once worked, or spend hours on lengthy commutes, even when offered higher salaries.

Recent studies, including a study by McKinsey, indicate that the majority of employees prefer a hybrid or flexible model that includes a balance of remote and office work. Significant minorities prefer full-time in the office and a smaller number prefer full-time remote models. There is an age divide in preferences, with people in their 20s preferring the mentoring and camaraderie of office work, while people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, who are often caring for kids or other family members, prefer remote or hybrid options. In fact, the McKinsey study found that more than a quarter of people surveyed reported that they would consider switching employers if their organization returned to fully on-site work. Therefore, offering a variety of options, including remote or hybrid models, seems to be key to attracting and maintaining top talent in all age groups.

How can HR professionals navigate the confusing field and find the best policy for their company in today’s rapidly evolving environment? The key is in the data. By tracking what other employers are doing with regards to remote or hybrid work options, HR professionals can make sure that they are meeting or surpassing industry standards and offering the models people are looking for. Together with competitive salaries, that’s the way to attract top talent in today’s job market.

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