Many employers marked Sept. 5—the day after Labor Day—as the date by which employees would be required to return to offices after working from home during much of the COVID-19 pandemic. And now that Labor Day has come and gone, it appears return-to-office mandates are picking up steam in organizations throughout the nation.
In fact, a whopping 90 percent of companies plan to implement return-to-office policies by the end of 2024, according to a new report from Resume Builder.
Just 2 percent of respondents said their company never plans to require employees to work in person, the firm's survey of 1,000 company decision-makers found. About 51 percent of employers currently require some or all employees to work in person, while 39 percent plan to by the end of 2024 and 8 percent plan to by 2025 or later.
"We're still seeing many companies exhibit flexibility toward remote work, but some organizations have been or are beginning to require at least two to three days in the office," said Michelle Swiatkowski, HR manager at VAI, a tech firm based in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.
Several organizations and their return-to-office plans have been in the spotlight in recent weeks. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy remarked in a meeting with employees that it's "past the time to disagree," and they should commit to working in offices. Jassy told those who refused to do so that it is "probably not going to work out for you at Amazon," according to an Insider article. Jassy's remarks follow the retail giant's mandate for employees to return to offices three days a week—and the subsequent protest from thousands of Amazon workers, who argued against the requirement.
Meanwhile, Facebook parent company Meta recently reminded employees that beginning Sept. 5, those employees assigned to offices must spend at least three days a week in person—or they might lose their jobs.
[SHRM Online resources: Return to Office]
Many employers say working in person fosters collaboration and culture and in general is better for business.
The Resume Builder survey found that of respondents whose companies have already returned to the office, 3 in 4 say they have seen an improvement in revenue. Meanwhile, 81 percent of company leaders say coming back to the office next year will improve company culture, and 83 percent say it will enhance productivity. Additionally, the vast majority also say they have seen improvements in productivity, worker retention, employee relationships and company culture.
But a disconnect continues between many employers and employees on such policies and mandates.
Other Research Puts Employers on Notice
While the majority of employers are forging ahead with return-to-office plans, other recent research issues a warning: They may risk losing employees if they insist on in-person work.
Analysis by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), out earlier this month, found that almost half (47 percent) of employees indicate they would quit a job or begin looking for a new job immediately if their employer mandated a full-time return-to-office policy.
IBI's finding is not an outlier—other research has issued similar findings—but it is significant that this far into the tug-of-war between employees and employers, there's still substantial employee resistance to returning to offices.
According to IBI, 22.5 percent of U.S. employers with remote-capable employees want their employees back in the office full time, while only 15.1 percent of remote-capable employees expressed a desire to return to the office full time.
Hybrid Schedules, Compromise
It's worth noting, though, that return-to-office mandates at many companies—including Amazon and Meta—are not for five days a week. Many of those firms are allowing employees to continue working from home one or two days a week—something employees, for the most part, support.
In fact, hybrid work is growing exponentially, with an August report from data and analytics firm GlobalData finding that job postings featuring the keyword "hybrid work" year-over-year increased by 29 percent in the second quarter of 2023. At the same time, "remote work" and "work from home" options declined.
Hybrid roles and schedules may be the future, signifying a compromise between employers and employees on the office versus remote debate, said Sherla Sriprada, business fundamentals analyst at GlobalData.
"As industries adapt to new work paradigms, the surge in hybrid roles reflects the ongoing transformation in workplace dynamics," she said. "It is a testament to the delicate balance companies are striving to achieve between structured office presence and the allure of flexible arrangements. This trend not only enhances employee satisfaction but also offers businesses a strategic edge in an evolving business landscape."
Overall, offering employees flexibility is key, said IBI researcher Carole Bonner, calling it vital for employee well-being. A 2022 study from IBI found that remote and hybrid employees are 22 percent more productive, 21 percent more satisfied and 51 percent more highly engaged.
"Many studies have found that flexible work schedules improve well-being, engagement and organizational commitment. Offering flexibility can mitigate the risks of burnout and ensure employees are maximizing their productivity," Bonner said. "Employers that are seeing improved attraction and retention rates, and attracting top talent, are often the ones offering the most flexibility."
Stacie Haller, chief career adviser at Resume Builder, said that even though many employers are starting to require employees to return to offices for part of the week, it remains to be seen if those plans are set in stone, especially if employee backlash continues.
"The majority of business leaders who plan to RTO in 2024 seem to understand that in order to retain talent, they can't force unwilling employees back to the office," she said.