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Hybrid work

Return-to-office backlash: how to solve the employer/employee conflict


May 9, 2024


May 21, 2024

90% of office workers don’t want to return to the old ways of working1, while 80% of companies say they will track office attendance in 2024 2. The two figures already explain a lot about the current return-to-office backlash organizations are facing. Balancing workplace trends and business needs has no black-or-white solution. There are some nuances to consider. What are the reasons why people reject the idea of working on-site again? They don’t want a fully in-office working model but don't really want a full-remote schedule, either. What are the risks of letting this conflict between employers and employees continue? At the end of the day, it is likely that everyone will lose. We'll give you key insights and statistics to understand employees’ resistance to return-to-office mandates. But most importantly, we’ll try to help you find common ground that fulfills your needs, answers your staff’s expectations, and aligns with the trends of the future of work. 

Why are employees resistant to returning to the office?

The cost of commuting for employees

One of the main reasons employees are resistant to returning on-site is having to commute daily again. We’ve written a full piece about the cost of commuting and how it impacts not only your team members’ bank accounts but also their mental health, if you want to learn more regarding this topic. To summarize, the money, time, and stress that going back and forth to the office implies have a massive influence on workers’ reluctance toward RTO policies. The time that is lost on their journey is hours they no longer have for personal hobbies and responsibilities each week. This directly impacts their work-life balance.

A strong will for a better work-life balance

The workforce is now mainly composed of Millennials and Gen Z, and one common characteristic of these two demographic groups is their strong will for better work-life balance. By removing remote work opportunities, companies cross a line on this core pillar of Gen Y and Z’s vision of work life. Over the last few years, they’ve experienced the advantages of not having to go to the office every day and the way it improves this aspect of their lives. It is no surprise that they no longer want to give up and do everything they can to keep this perk, including searching for a new job that offers this option.

A growing demand for more flexibility at work

Many companies want to decide where and when their staff will work. On the other hand, people want more flexibility in their work lives. Forcing them to come back on-site, especially when setting specific days and times, is, therefore, the opposite of what employees desire: more flexibility at work. Before the pandemic, the world of work was very strict and structured. However, forced remote work proved that great work can be done differently. Although most people also express the need for in-person interactions, a more versatile way of working remains a growing demand among office professionals. Flexible work arrangements can include different work locations, flexible hours, or contract types, for example.

📆 Start a free trial of the deskbird app to give your employees more flexibility while saving costs!

Woman on cell phone at office
Woman working from the office

What are the latest statistics about employees’ reactions to RTO policies?

90% of employees are against the idea of going back to the old ways of working

This number speaks for itself to explain the current return-to-office backlash. This means 9 out of 10 employees do not want to return to the office daily from 9 to 5. Therefore, it is no surprise there is resistance to return-to-office when businesses force their team members to come back on-site from Monday to Friday, all day. There is a massive gap between what workers want and what employers require them to do. Yet, the old ways of working not only include being on-site daily but also include a strict structure with no flexibility.

96% of workers believe remote and hybrid work setups are better for their mental health

Another study from FlexJobs3 reveals that 96% of workers believe that remote or hybrid work schedules significantly improve their mental health. Although this number needs to be considered carefully, as it is very subjective, it still shows that fully in-office schedules are no longer on the horizon from an employee’s perspective. There are various reasons why flexible work arrangements tend to benefit people’s mental health. Some common explanations include less stress related to commuting, better work-life balance, and improvements in the three core pillars of a healthy lifestyle (diet, sleep, physical activity).

🧠 Discover the double-edged sword of hybrid work on mental health and how to deal with it. 

More than 60% of workers wish to come to the office only two to three days a week

Based on a study conducted by IESE Business School 4, a significant shift in employee work preferences has emerged, with over 60% expressing the desire to spend just two to three days per week in the office. This trend underscores a broader inclination towards flexible work arrangements post-pandemic. Notably, the research highlights that 34% of people favor working offsite two days a week, while 28% opt for three days on-site, indicating a clear majority advocating for a hybrid work lifestyle that blends in-office collaboration with the autonomy of remote work.

👉 Read our full article about working from home two days a week.

Colleagues socializing at the office
Bustling workplace

Why is finding common ground crucial for companies?

This growing gap can impact your development and success

The disparity between your expectations for return-to-office policies and your workforce’s desires can critically damage your company’s growth and success. When people feel forced to work in ways that are misaligned with their preferences, morale and motivation drop significantly. Discontent rises, leading to teams that are less engaged and dynamic. This tendency for quiet quitting directly translates into lowered productivity, as employees no longer feel inclined to invest extra effort into their tasks. Disappointed staff can hinder innovation and reduce the overall effectiveness of operations.

Coffee badging is a rising trend to get around office attendance policies

Have you heard about the new office trend called coffee badging? Well, it is one of the most concrete consequences of the return-to-office backlash. As employees come on-site because they are required to and not because they want to, they scan their badge, have coffee with their colleagues, and go back home. This is not to say this does not benefit team members or companies. If you don’t want this trend to affect your workplace, finding common ground with your workers about office attendance is paramount.

Forced RTO policies have an impact on talent attraction and retention

As flexible work arrangements have become a key determinant in job choice and satisfaction, return-to-office mandates significantly affect talent attraction and retention. A report by Owl Labs5  found that 59% of employees would be more likely to consider an organization that offers remote work over one that doesn’t. By insisting on a full return to the office, you take the risk of driving away your best team members who prefer the autonomy and work-life balance of remote or hybrid models. This can lead to turnover as workers seek positions that better suit their lifestyle. Eventually, this challenges your company’s ability to attract and retain the skilled professionals who are essential for enhancing your business success.

🎬 Watch this less than two-minute video about the features of the deskbird app to learn more about our mission and how we can support your hybrid work environment!

Employees socializing at their desks
Employees socializing at their desks

What can you do to prevent return-to-office backlash?

Design a hybrid work policy WITH your employees

The first recommendation we can give you to avoid experiencing return-to-office backlash is not to force your employees to come back on-site daily. Adopting a hybrid work model and collaboratively crafting the policy with your team ensures everyone’s needs are fulfilled. This inclusive approach promotes a shared understanding and ownership of the new working norms, fostering a culture of trust and flexibility. A well-designed hybrid policy balances organizational objectives with your team members’ preferences, thereby mitigating resistance and aligning efforts toward the company’s goals.

Think forward, not backward, by embracing different forms of flexibility

Another way to smooth the transition to more on-site days is to support multiple types of flexible work simultaneously. For companies, it’s crucial to shift from retrospective practices to forward-thinking strategies, including adopting flexible work models beyond location. Embracing varied working hours, asynchronous communication, and adaptable roles enables your staff to perform optimally, catering to individual productivity rhythms and personal responsibilities. This modern approach not only answers employees’ demand for more agile ways of working but also drives innovation and engagement by empowering team members with autonomy.

Make your office more attractive and people-centric

Imagine an office space that your staff enjoys more than working from home or a third workplace. Well, that’s the goal you should try to achieve so you don’t even have to convince your team members to be present in person more often. The physical workspace should be more attractive so that people have more to gain when coming on-site, like more ergonomic furniture, better equipment, and tastier coffee! The office setup must be rearranged to support your staff’s needs, adapt to agile ways of working, facilitate in-person collaboration, and enable social interactions.

Elevate your employee experience with workplace technology

The strategic use of technology is pivotal in enhancing the physical workplace. By integrating advanced collaboration tools, smart office solutions like deskbird, and personalized tech amenities, you can create a seamless, efficient, and comfortable on-site experience. Such innovations signal a commitment to a progressive work culture and can lessen the resistance to coming on-site by providing tangible benefits to in-office work, like easier collaboration, social interaction, and access to specialized resources. When employees perceive the on-site experience as additive rather than something compulsory, they are more likely to embrace the balance of office presence with the flexibility they have come to value.

In navigating the return-to-office backlash, the key lies in finding common ground with team members to balance their need for flexibility with the company’s operational requirements. Engaging in meaningful dialogue to understand your staff preferences and developing a flexible work model inclusive of their input can significantly reduce resistance to on-site work. Integrating hybrid workplace technologies like deskbird can further enrich this new era of the office experience. Our user-friendly solution optimizes workspace management, supports spontaneous collaboration, and offers employees the autonomy to personalize their in-office days.

Start a free trial of the deskbird app to discover our people-centric features yourself!

1 Office Workers: Quietly Changing, Gallup.

2 Return to Office: Is It a Good Idea for Companies?, BuiltIn.

3 Exploring the Impact of Remote Work on Mental Health and the Workplace, FlexJobs.

4 Working remotely two to three days a week, the best option, IESE.

5 State of remote work 2022, Owl Labs.