Why Are Some Companies Going Back To The Office?

Employees back in the office.
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If you’ve read the news or have seen any recent headlines, you may see a trending article about a company mandating remote employees back to the office. 

And even worse, seeing a quote from some executive leader that makes misleading or even stereotypical remarks against work from home, when the data shows it is not true.

So why are some companies pushing this “back to the office” narrative so hard? Well, there are a collection of reasons. The good news is these organizations are not the majority. 

People Want to Work Remotely

I’m sure that you are not surprised that people want to work remotely. Yet, it seems companies still question this. 

But thankfully, there has been various research studies done that proves that yes, employees want to work remotely.

And while not everyone will want to work from home full-time, the vast majority would like some flexibility in their work options. It’s why the hybrid work model has become so appealing to many Fortune 500 companies

Here are just a small collection stats:

  • 59% of respondents in a study said they would be more likely to choose an employer who offered remote work at least part of the time, compared to those who didn’t. (Global Workplace Analytics)
  • Currently, 68% of Americans would prefer to be fully remote. And at least 23% would take a 10% pay cut to work from home indefinitely. (Zippia)
  • 81% of workers expect their employer to continue supporting remote work. A majority of workers are in favor of remote work, even the ones who’d never worked remotely before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Zippia)
Source via McKinsey

The classic productivity excuse.

Additionally, many of the cliche statements against remote work have been proven false. Like the classic, “remote work hurts productivity.” NOPE.

So next time you need an excuse to work from home, you can always use some data to back you up! Here are just some stats around remote work and productivity. 

  • For example, a survey by Mercer of 800 HR leaders reported that 94% found that the staff at their companies were more or equally productive working remotely compared to working in the office. 
  • A two-year survey by Great Place to Work of more than 800,000 employees showed that the shift to working remotely during the pandemic boosted worker productivity by 6% on average.
  • 77% of workers who work from home at least a few times per month show an increase in productivity. (Zippia)
  • Turnover reduces by 50% when employees have access to a work-from-home option. (Zippia)

Why Are Companies Going Back to the Office?

While I am a big fan of remote work, there are also SOME valid concerns for organizations. 

In fact, in a few instances it does make sense as to why they may be mandating a return to the office. GASP! I know, I’m going against the grain here. But don’t get me wrong, some of these “reasons” are lame and result from outdated thinking.

The workplace is certainly evolving and younger generations are refusing to give in to the corporate nonsense of yesteryear. 

So, here are the common reasons some companies are going back to the office.

1. Companies are stuck in long commercial leases. 

Many companies pre-covid times, have long leases for their office space. Many of which the company cannot back out of their contract. 

So there is this big empty space just eating up money. From a business perspective, I totally understand the challenge.

While contracts length can vary, many are locked in to 3 to 10 years. And quite a few companies may have unlucky timing to sign or extend a lease right before the pandemic hit. 

2. Companies own their buildings and are stuck with costs.

And even bigger expenses and the “hard pill to swallow” for leaders, are when their company actually owns the office building. 

Since this is a nice piece of real estate, getting top dollar when everyone is remote is a challenge as the demand and price for the office declines. 

For the company, it justified getting employees back to the office and trying to prop up the value.  

3. Leadership has a lack of trust in remote employees.

Many executives have trust issues. It says more about them and the hiring practice than it does remote employees. 

But while companies bring people back to the office won’t admit it, trust is a big reason. Managers and executives often think those working from home are less productive and aren’t actually working. 

After all, they can’t see them at their desks so how do you know anyone is actually working!? 🙄

For sure there are some employees who will take advantage of their employer, but it’s usually easy to spot. 

4. Companies aren’t willing to adapt their systems and onboarding.

The processes used in the office to scale and onboard employees won’t carry over the same in remote work environments. And too often, organizations won’t adapt and refresh their approach.

I get that it can be challenging to put together, remote work is entirely different. But it’s easier for managers to put operational failures on working from home instead of adapting new processes. 

Fortunately, you have some amazing remote-first companies who have built the infrastructure and share their playbooks of success. This is a great place to start if you are hybrid or considering moving to a remote work only schedule.  

5. Older generations in leadership are stuck in their ways.

Stubbornness is a bit common in the remote work era. Often, executives are from older generations only see work as one way – being in the office. 

It doesn’t matter if you show data, results, and examples of businesses growing in a remote capacity. There is just no convincing them. And it’s not a valid excuse, but this is often an underlying reason some companies are going back to the office.

6. Lack of company culture that in person will fix.

Another popular excuse to get people back in the office is how the company culture is broken.

Look, it definitely can be more challenging to build team camaraderie when working remotely. And there is something to be said about getting together and working in-person a bit.

But, most company cultures are broken no matter where people are working. Pizza parties, cubicles, and being on Zoom in the office is not culture.

7. The need to boost local economies again.

There has been many articles around various local economies being affected by remote work. Less businesses operating in person, means less people in the town going to restaurants and shops.

But on the other hand, it’s allow people to move to new states and cities, boosting those local economies in various ways. There are a few studies when you search this, but most of the challenges were really during the height of Covid when cities were essentially shutdown.

Today, I don’t know that this excuse fully sticks. While it’s good that a company wants to support local economies, I feel it’s not the main reason a company wants employees back in the office. But instead, use this disguise for positive press. Maybe I’m being too cynical again here 🤷‍♂️

The Return to Office Mandates Are Not Going Well 

There have been a few companies taking strong stances against remote work. And mostly, it’s companies in the banking or financial services industry. 

To name a few Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase most of which had executives that are very critical of remote working. 

Other companies that tempted this, actually moved more into hybrid when they got backlash from employees. Business Insider put together a list of large companies going back full-time or moving to hybrid that you can check out. 

Now, the businesses have every right to dictate the work environment as they want. But, what I noticed when these “back to the office” positions hit the news is the massive negative reaction from readers. 

Whether on the article itself or on social media, I’d say 95%+ are not receptive to the return to the office stance. If anything, it’s created negative press around the company. 

Not that it hurts these major corporations pockets necessarily, but it could as younger generations of top talent look elsewhere for work. 

The Good News 

In reality, there really are not many companies forcing a complete return to the office. A lot of it is hype in the media, because those headlines get clicks and get people riled up. 

But the actual data showed that of the CEOs in the U.S., only  3% indicated they would decrease the availability of remote work. 

And even business leaders like Elon Musk, who had strong critiques about remote work previously, reversed his stance a bit on policies at Twitter.  

So while not every company wlll be remote-first, many will stay hybrid and adapt to the demand of flexible work schedules by top talent today. As much as you might get annoyed about companies going back to the office, remember they are the minority. 

Final Thoughts

So will remote working die? Absolutely not. Will every company go fully-remote? No, I don’t think that’s reasonable to think that either. 

Instead, we’ll continue to see a great blend of companies that are remote-first and others adopting a more hybrid approach.

It’s a valid move, considering much of the data shows how many workers want at least a few days remote. 

The challenge with hybrid models is that it still puts limitations on where talent can be located, costs to employer and employee, wasted time commuting, and more. 

But we’ll have to see how this plays out. 

I’m also sure we may see other companies completely shut down the idea of remote work. But, I also think those will be the companies falling behind or will change their view in the near future. 

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About Todd Kunsman

Todd is the founder of Remote Work Junkie and has been featured in numerous publications like Business Insider, HuffPost, CNBC, and more. He’s been a remote work advocate for close to a decade and has been working remotely full-time for 5+ years. He’s also a marketing, personal finance, and music nerd 🤓

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