WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — For some employers, remote work was an aberration. It was a necessary consequence of a global pandemic but with vaccines available and the worst effects subsiding in the United States, it's time to get back to the office.
That's a hard pill to swallow for a majority of workers who experienced the benefits of working from anywhere. It's leading some to consider quitting rather than giving up the perks of working from home.
According to a recent survey by the job search site FlexJobs, 58% of people who have been working remotely during the pandemic said they would "absolutely" look for a new job if their current employer did not allow them to continue working remotely.
A company's remote work options were among the most important factors when considering a new job, according to 69% of men and 80% of women.
Robert Half, the world's largest specialized staffing firm, asked 1,000 remote workers and found that one-third would consider quitting if their employer forced them back to the office full time. The report also found that most workers wanted a fully remote or hybrid schedule. Just 26% wanted to return to the office full time.
"Employees are becoming unwavering about working for companies that offer some level of flexibility — either offering fully remote or hybrid options," said Dawn Fay, senior district president for Robert Half. "The unwillingness to be adaptable may lead to organizations losing out on good hires or existing team members."
The vast majority of businesses across sectors are finding it difficult to hire right now. The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests the worker shortage is worsening. On the last business day of April, there were 9.3 million job openings, the highest number reported since 2000.
In a tight labor market, companies have a strong incentive to listen to their employees. Various surveys have shown anywhere from half to over 90% of workers would prefer fully remote or hybrid work schedules.
The benefits of flexible work are so compelling that employees have said they would prefer the option to work remotely over a $30,000 raise. The anonymous professional network Blind asked more than 3,000 employees at 45 companies which they would prefer and 64% said they would choose to work from home over the extra cash.
Offering flexible work schedules has become a competitive edge for companies that could determine the future success of their business to attract and retain talent over the long run.
"In the past, remote work was viewed by companies as a perk rather than a beneficial business strategy," said Brie Reynolds, a career development manager and coach at FlexJobs and Remote.co.
The pandemic changed that in a flash. "As a result of this successful forced experiment, many company leaders rapidly changed their minds and embraced remote work as a more permanent solution moving forward," Reynolds said.
Industry leaders have read the writing on the wall and are planning to adapt to the new normal of remote work. Companies are more willing to hire a fully remote candidate. They have also accepted that much of their workforce will be virtual for the foreseeable future. A PwC survey of nearly 700 CEOs found the vast majority (78%) accepted that the shift toward remote collaboration would outlast the pandemic.
Most of the biggest U.S. tech companies have announced long-term plans for a hybrid work model. Twitter and Square have given employees the choice to be fully remote. Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook will require employees to come in between two and three days a week.
Amazon shocked employees with a July 1 return to office announcement. There was strong pushback to what corporate employees interpreted as a mandate to return full-time. Amazon clarified this week that it expected employees to be in the office at least three days starting next month, with the option of up to four weeks of fully remote work per year.
The nation's largest employer, the federal government, is also moving toward increased telework and remote work after the pandemic. A White House memo published Thursday called on agencies to develop and release return to office plans this month, noting the importance of "flexible work schedules" in recruitment, retention workforce diversity and inclusiveness.
Not everyone is fully embracing an all-remote workforce. Big banks are bullish to get employees back into the office. Goldman Sachs announced this week that all of its employees would have to report their vaccination status before returning to work. The bank is pushing to get employees back by June 14.
JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo are also pushing for a full return to the office. Many employers and employees that favor an office-first approach feel that remote work limits collaboration and reduces opportunities for mentorship and career development. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon argued earlier this year that the company's culture was inconsistent with the remote work model. “Work from home doesn’t work for people who want to hustle," he said.
Companies that are unable to move past old beliefs about in-office work face the risk of losing talent or struggling to attract it, warned Prithwiraj Choudhury, an associate professor at Harvard Business School who studies work-from-anywhere companies.
"People are not going to go back to the old way of life because some CEO wants to bring the world back to 2019. They'll look for a new job," Choudhury said. "My hope, even now, is that these old school CEOs view remote work as a win-win rather than they're being forced into this because people will leave."
Consistently, employees cite the lack of commute, extra time with family, greater autonomy, improved work-life balance and increased productivity among the top reasons they want to continue on a remote or hybrid schedule. Cost savings are also high at the top of the list.
According to FlexJobs, over one-third of workers estimated saving at least $5,000 a year by not going into the office. By cutting back on gas costs, parking, dry cleaning, the daily coffee or lunch out, some have reported saving up to $200 per week.
Many of those same benefits accrued to employers. Employers that adopt a work-from-anywhere model have greater flexibility to select qualified, diverse job candidates.
Productivity also improved. In January, a majority of employers reported that employee productivity rose during their company's forced work-from-home period. That was particularly true for employers that invested in technology solutions to keep employees more connected.
Cost savings were also passed on to the employer. For every employee that works remotely part-time, a company could save up to $11,000 per year, according to a Global Workplace Analytics study. Those savings come primarily from increased productivity, lower real estate costs and decreased absenteeism. Higher employee satisfaction and less stress were also shown to decrease employee turnover.
"What companies are realizing is the employees are a lot more energized and happy about that balance [from flexible work schedules]," said Fay. "A happier employee tends to be a more productive employee. And organizations have realized this could be a great retention and recruitment tool for them."