According to a March 2023 Pew Research Center article, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 7% of employees with jobs that could be done from home actually worked from home.
The article went on to note that 55% of the same group worked from home in October 2020, as compared to 43% in January 2022, and roughly 35% were “full-time” remote workers as of early 2023. In addition, another 41% of this same job group (those with work that could be done from home) continued to work remotely on at least a hybrid schedule.
These numbers cover nearly three quarters of those with jobs that can accommodate some form of work-from-home performance — quite a significant number.
However, according to KPMG’s Global CEO Outlook, released in October 2023, 64% of global CEOs maintain that they expect a 100% return to in-office performance within three years. And, according to the same report, 87% of those CEOs are willing to reward employees for their return, with higher compensation, promotions, and favorable assignments.
So, what can you do to facilitate a return to the workplace for your workforce? Is such a return needed?
Answering the second question is critical; why “force” employees back into offices if success does not require it? Is a return truly needed? The short answer is yes. In a general sense, it is necessary to have employees back in the office — at least in some hybrid format — for both your business’ success and your employees’ well-being.
A recent Gallup article reports that full-time remote employees are far more detached from their employers psychologically, and, as a consequence, less committed to the business’ customers. That’s a problem, and the world’s CEOs recognize it. But, is eliminating all hybrid situations the best approach/answer, and, if so, how can employees get there?
First, no transition back to the office can be successful if the management responsible for working with employees are not similarly present . . . in the office. As the Gallup article properly recognized, “If your highest-level leaders are working from distant locations, the issue isn’t the followers — it’s the leaders.” Quiet quitting and poor productivity can be directly tied to ineffective management. Therefore, it is incumbent upon company leadership to embrace a meaningful return to the office if the goal is to have employees back at the office as well.
Second, businesses need not eliminate hybrid work in total. Rather, and as a recent Gallup U.S. workforce study illustrated, due to the multiple benefits resulting from working from home, 90% of those that work at least partially from home report they do not want to return to the office on a 100% basis.
So, meet these employees part-way. Establish a working hybrid method that can be beneficial for all; one that will promote in-person collaboration but will still allow some remote work opportunities. For example, many companies are considering the three-day, in-office workweek, with Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday reserved for in-office attendance. And, to further encourage that attendance, some are offering lunches for their employees, commuter support and subsidies, and regular events that make being in the office “fun” again.
Third, don’t forget two important concepts when designing a return-to-office approach (whether that be partially hybrid or a full return): (i) BE CONSISTENT — no disparate treatment. If the expectation is for employees to be back in the office at least three days a week, all management should be back in the office at least three days a week, too. (ii) Don’t ignore the ADA — remember, even though the company may have the laudable goal of non-disparate treatment, there must be exceptions for qualified persons with disabilities who may require flexibility on in-office work as a reasonable accommodation. As EEOC guidance on the topic points out, telework and work-from-home was long viewed as a possible accommodation for a qualified person with a disability, even before the pandemic. The analysis continues to remain the same, but the recent telework experiences of many have illustrated that this can be a viable accommodation.
At the end of the day, there is no “one-size-fits-all” for all businesses and workplaces when it comes to remote work. Best practice would suggest that, if avoiding “quiet quitting” is the goal, employers should take things slowly and ensure that your leadership is doing just that — leading by example.