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► 2023 May Be The Year Of The Big Return To The Office

The years 2020 through 2022 saw a fundamental shift in where people got their work done, as workers abandoned crowded offices in favor of the comfort of their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. But what will 2023 bring? COVID hasn’t entirely gone away, but restrictions are being eased or removed altogether, and reports signal more employers are moving toward requiring employees to go back to the office.

Will the Pendulum Swing?

When the pandemic forced employers to send people home, workers who never thought they would want to become work-from-homers got used to the idea, and many decided they didn’t want to go back to the old days of time-wasting commutes and the frustrating distractions of in-office work.

Hybrid is now the buzzword for many employees as they hope to enjoy the best of both worlds—part time in the office and part time working elsewhere. Hybrid is attractive to many employers, too. Since hybrid means fewer people in the workplace at the same time, employers benefit from a reduced footprint in expensive real estate.

The jury is still out on how work arrangements will shake out, but some predict that the pendulum is swinging back toward more workers in the office at least some of the time. Others, though, see a forever-changed workplace—one with as much virtual communication as in-person interaction.

Plans for 2023

In October, Resume Builder released results of a survey of 1,000 business leaders showing that 66% of employers were requiring employees to work from the office, and 90% were planning to require employees to return in 2023.

The survey also found that 21% of companies would fire workers for not returning to the office. In addition, 88% of companies reported using incentives to get employees to return, offering perks such as catered meals, commuter benefits, and higher pay.

The Resume Builder survey also found that 96% of business leaders surveyed see benefits to in-person work over work from home. They cited improved communication (55%), creativity (50%), productivity (48%), company culture (39%), and employee oversight (31%).

The survey found that as of the date of the poll (September 2022), just 34% of companies continued to allow employees to work fully remotely, 45% had a hybrid policy, and 21% required employees to work full time in the office.

Of the employers offering hybrid work, 46% required workers in the office three days a week, 27% required two days, 16% required four days, and 7% once a week. Another 3% of employers required employees to come in a few times a month, and 1% required workers in the office just once a month.

But is Remote Here to Stay?

Even though many employers are calling workers back, many employers and employees alike are happy with remote and hybrid arrangements and don’t want to change. An August blog entry from Monster.com reports that many employers plan to keep the telework policies they instituted because of the pandemic.

Weighing the pros and cons, the blog points out that both employers and employees often come down in favor of remote work because of more employee satisfaction in many cases and the ability to acquire talent from across the country.

Also, young workers just starting out can remotely work for big-name companies without having to move to the expensive areas where those employers are often headquartered. But many managers feel like young workers benefit from in-person mentoring. Plus, remote work arrangements sacrifice the synergy of in-person collaboration and camaraderie.

Despite those concerns, a long list of prominent employers—3M, Lyft, SAP, Reddit, Spotify, and HubSpot among them—have announced they plan to move away from so much on-site work in favor of flexible arrangements.

Considering the Risks

Before workers get too excited about working from home or even adopting a nomadic life that allows them to keep their job while they see the world, some experts are warning of risks.

A video posted on the Center for Economic Policy Research website features Richard Baldwin of the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, and Jonathan I. Dingel of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago discussing a paper they authored exploring how the proliferation of remote work may spur more white-collar jobs going overseas.

The researchers say “telemigration”—an arrangement where workers work full time for a company in another country—happened even before COVID and is likely to continue even though language, culture, distance, and other barriers make it difficult to hire from abroad and therefore may keep it from happening rapidly.

But the change can happen, and Baldwin sounds a warning: “If you can do your job from home, be scared. Be very scared because somebody in India or wherever is willing to do it for much less.”

By Tammy Binford. Ms. Binford writes and edits news alerts and newsletter articles on labor and employment law topics for BLR web and print publications.

[1/2023]

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