Will Companies Ever Return to the Office? Why Remote Work is Here to Stay.

Remote Work

As life slowly, grudgingly returns to normal in the post-pandemic world, workplace changes are happening as well. With most companies forced into a remote work environment two years ago, many discovered that this arrangement actually worked very well, giving employees more flexibility and companies the opportunity to rethink the physical work environment.

COVID hasn’t exactly gone away, but has morphed into a less serious threat for the most part, and that brings up the questions: Will we fully return to the office? Should we? The answers might depend on whom you ask.

Workers, especially younger ones, have by and large embraced the age of remote work. Convenience is certainly a factor, as it’s hard to beat a morning commute that involves walking down the stairs, but so is the fear of being in proximity with unvaccinated co-workers. And with gasoline approaching $5 a gallon, avoiding that commute carries a very real financial impact as well.

How strongly does the workforce feel about all this? A poll by Morning Consult shows that 55% of those working remotely would consider quitting if they were told to return in person full time. Meanwhile, ZipRecruiter.com notes that job postings specified as “remote” get 300 percent more applicants than others. In the age of the Great Resignation, that’s a significant consideration for employers.

So, what some labor experts call “the largest change in American working and living conditions since World War II” (NBC News) would appear to be here to stay. But not all in the C-suite agree. Though sometimes hard to quantify, there are benefits to teams working together in person, and any manager’s job becomes at least a little more difficult when he or she is separated from direct reports by a Zoom or Teams screen. Fully remote work also adds a layer of complexity to onboarding new hires and acclimating them to an organization’s culture. And with kids for the most part back in schools, employers may feel less inclined to allow that remote flexibility for parents.

Predictably, the industry in question will have a great deal to do with where the balance will be struck. The tech sector unsurprisingly has led the way in adapting to a remote work model, while a March U.S. News article notes that many corporate giants in the financial sector were calling workers back to the office (though many were also offering hybrid options).

Bringing employees back to offices at least part time has a ripple effect as well, boosting business for retail and dining establishments in business districts, and fueling a greater need for janitorial, office equipment and other ancillary services.

What happens at this juncture where the Great Resignation meets the Great Return? Compromise. Recent labor statistics showed two job openings for every unemployed person nationwide, so employees are in the driver’s seat in an unprecedented way. The employer that digs in its heels and insists on every office chair being occupied every day is likely to find many of those chairs empty in short order.

So the answer for most will be some kind of hybrid arrangement, with perhaps three or four days a week spent at home and one or two on site. The formula will vary by industry, job role and even by individual employee, but the overall model allows for the in-person component managers have missed, and still acknowledges the desire of most employees to avoid the commute and dodge high gas prices … most days.