Is This a Turning Point for Remote Work Policies?

Many companies are currently working on their return-to-office plans, including the idea of whether they will mandate employees returning to offices at all. Several remote and hybrid policies have become widely accepted nearly three years after they started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, ​economists are predicting a slowdown in labor market activity in the U.S. in 2023 due to a likely recession, a continued battle with inflation, more layoffs and higher unemployment.
So how should employers tackle this big looming question of whether return-to-office plans will be enforced?

Considerations for Implementing Return to Work Policies

Many companies have noted a need to return to normal operations. “Normal Operations” to many companies means they see the upcoming financial downturn as time to tighten the belt and get back to productivity as usual. This means minimizing risks and increasing focus on the things that make money, rather than taking the time to experiment with work cultures and other ancillary items.

Energage‘s research across 8,000 companies demonstrates that it’s the senior leaders that tend to be more engaged when working onsite versus working remotely. So, even though research generally shows that remote workers are more engaged and productive, the company’s senior leaders aren’t bought in. And with the potential for recession, many leaders are choosing survival mode.

Many sources are signaling a shift from a strong labor market, where employees have a say in work preferences, to an environment with more layoffs where employers hold more leveraging power. Employers looking to make the switch from remote to in office may make this the time to shift away from fully remote to fully in-person or hybrid models.

Risks Associated with Eliminating Remote Work Options

Much of the research shows that remote work has been a success. In general, employees are satisfied with the arrangement, and happier with their employer, sometimes resulting in less employee turnover. Some employees surveyed noted they do more work in less time, while others noted they do more work in the same period.

So what’s the biggest risk to employers looking to mandate return to office? Losing employees. Some recent research indicates that employees will look for other jobs if they are forced back into office environments. Data from 2021 from the ADP Research Institute, for instance, indicated that organizations that force employees back to fully onsite could risk losing up to two-thirds of their workforce. In addition, a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey found that about half of workers said they are “definitely” looking for a remote position for their next job.

In Conclusion

All companies would be best served to weigh the pros and cons of remote versus hybrid or fully in-person policies while listening to employee feedback. Many experts suggest the reality will settle somewhere in the middle.

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