- Recent research shows employees working in the office at under 47 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
- Remote work offers increased flexibility, improved work-life balance, and a larger pool of talent but also presents challenges such as isolation.
- Employee engagement and communication is the key to successfully navigating the return to the office and the future of work.
What do the recent headlines on the return to office from CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and Bloomberg have in common? They all trumpeted how at the end of January, office occupancy in 10 major U.S. cities tracked by security swipe tracker Kastle Systems went above 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels for the first time.
We’ll see how many of them cover a surprising reverse in this number: more recently, the barometer showed a sharp decrease, dropping to under 47 percent. Over the past few months, I have closely monitored the Kastle Office Occupancy Barometer and witnessed a gradual shift up, with many reverses, over the last few months. We’ll see if this new reverse is a fluke or a trend.
The Future of the Return to Office
The decrease in return to office raises important questions about the future of work. Will remote work become a permanent fixture, or will companies eventually return to the traditional office setting? This question will only be answered over time, but one thing is certain: companies must proactively address the challenges and benefits of hybrid and remote work to ensure the success of their employees and their business.
The return to the office may seem like a good idea for some companies, but the reality is that it can lead to negative consequences. A forced mandate can lead to decreased productivity, increased costs, and decreased job satisfaction. Companies may also face challenges with employee retention, as employees may prefer to work remotely due to increased flexibility and improved work-life balance.
Remote work has proven to be a more efficient and cost-effective way of working for many companies. Such work arrangements allow for increased flexibility and improved work-life balance and can lead to higher job satisfaction for employees. It also provides companies with a larger talent pool, as they are no longer limited to hiring employees in the same geographical area.
Remote work also presents several challenges, such as isolation, decreased collaboration, and difficulty maintaining work-life balance. As a result, companies must carefully consider their approach to remote work and determine the best solution for their employees and their business.
Employee engagement and communication are the keys to successfully navigating the return to the office and the future of work. Companies must engage with their employees to understand their needs and preferences and communicate with them to ensure they feel valued and supported. By doing so, companies can build a strong foundation for the future of work, no matter what the future may hold.
Return to Office: A Case Study
A mid-size insurance company was one of the many companies resistant to the shift to remote work. However, once the company adopted remote work, they found that their employees could be more productive and decreased costs.
Still, the company's management pushed for a return to the office, thinking it would improve collaboration and innovation. But the opposite happened–the return to the office led to decreased productivity and increased costs. The employees faced longer commutes and distractions in the office, decreasing their overall job satisfaction.
Once they asked me to help, we figured out what was best for customers and employees. From my experience consulting for 21 companies in determining their hybrid and remote work arrangements, the best practice is for leadership to provide broad but flexible guidelines for the whole company. Then, let teams of rank-and-file employees determine what works best for them.
Empower each team leader to determine, in consultation with their members, how they should function. The choice should be driven by the goals and collaborative capacities of each team rather than the personal preferences of the team leader. Executives should encourage team leaders to permit, wherever possible, team members who desire to work remotely to do so.
This approach aligns with recent research. When it comes to hybrid work, 46 percent of employees reported being engaged when their team determines their own policy of when to come into the office, according to a November Gallup survey. By contrast, 41 percent of respondents are content to make the decision individually, and just 35 percent reported being engaged if leadership determines the top-down policy for everyone.
It makes sense when you think about it. Team members know best what they need to collaborate and socialize together effectively. After all, the only useful function of the office is to facilitate collaboration, socialization, and mentoring: people are much more productive in their tasks at home. It’s often the case that rank-and-file teams want to determine what works best for their needs.
But in reality, according to the survey, only 13 percent of employees said their team actually determines their approach to hybrid work. That’s unfortunate and undermines engagement among hybrid workers.
And it’s easy to fix, as I did at this insurance company. The result: employees became more engaged and productive, and retention improved. Retention proved especially valuable as the company’s headquarters were in a city with several other insurance companies, offering plenty of options for their staff to work elsewhere.
As shown by the Kastle Office Occupancy Barometer, the recent decrease in return to the office is a surprising and concerning trend for many companies and their leaders. However, by proactively addressing the challenges and benefits of remote work, companies can build a strong foundation for the future of work and ensure the success of their employees and their business. It is time for companies to take a proactive approach to the return to the office and the future of work to ensure a bright and successful future for all.
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