Thirty-five percent is an often-reported statistic for the number of people working from home at the height of the pandemic. But that number is significantly understated when looking at households earning over $100K that were at 57.5% according to the Census Bureau. Over $150K that number is 67.5% and over $200K in earnings it is 73.1% who work-from-home. Employees with a bachelor’s degree or higher were more than three times as likely than those with a high school degree or GED to work-from-home – 61.7% versus 19.1%. As CEO’s argue that the work-from-home revolution is fading, in this strong candidate driven job market, white collar workers are still pushing back…sort of…
What Employers are Saying
With COVID seemingly under control, businesses are starting to ask, “What now? What does ‘normal’ look like going forward?” From their perspective work-from-home has the drawbacks of Zoom fatigue and longer hours with less productivity. “It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Zoom and Google Chat aren’t substitutes for in-person dynamics,” argues Axios. A March survey by Cleaning Coalition of America of 200 New York-based C-Suite executives found that 76% think in-person work is essential to the bottom line.
A University of Chicago study found that remote workers put in longer hours but were less productive particularly if they were parents. Workers spent more time in meetings but lost out on important face time with their managers. Another Webex study in March found high degrees of “meeting fatigue” among work-from-home employees.
American Express, BNC Mellon, Citibank, Ford Motor and Google, among many others, have implemented return-to-office policies. Goldman Sachs CEO, David Solomon, and JPMorgan Chase’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, have been on missions to return to the five-day status quo. This trend is only accelerating.
What Employees Want
The work-from-home revolution initiated by the pandemic, however flawed, has become a linchpin of the labor market as employees have many choices in the job market and are willing to leave their current employer if, at least, a hybrid work model is not available. In the IT marketplace 71% of employees stated in an Ivanti survey that they would choose to be able to work from anywhere over a job promotion or compensation increase. Employees feel this way because the work-from-home revolution is allowing them to save money, spend less time commuting, have a more flexible work schedule and giving them a better work-life balance.
The Middle Ground
“From zero to around forty percent in the office is extremely hard because employees mostly just see it as they’re being forced to the office to sit in front of their screen. So why can’t they just keep doing that from home? Above forty percent seems to be the magic percentage when ‘office FOMO’ kicks in, and people see they are missing out on something. They don’t want to be a part of the ‘out’ group,” says Stephen Miles, CEO of The Miles Group.
There are three models that can be used for addressing the work-from-home revolution. Employers can take a hard line and demand a full-time return to the office and just deal with the push back all at once hoping it will settle down without losing too many employees. The second, and probably best option, is to be very clear about what hybrid will mean and look like in the organization and invite feedback and discussion before issuing a final edict. The last option is just letting the environment play out while employees have so much power in this employee driven job market. The hope in a voluntary model is it will evolve to a hybrid model on its own as employees miss the office camaraderie and exposure only in-office can have on their career.
“I have to say, the energy in the office when we came back was so palpable. People were excited to see their colleagues, they were excited to get to work together again. People were hugging. You’re never going to find a one-size-fits-all approach, so the best thing to do is to really just take the time out to listen, to help people feel heard and to work on individual circumstances,” said Earthbound Brands’ Director of People, Michelle Corbett.