The WFH dilemma: return to the office or not?

The importance of the great return to work

Encourage workers to come back to the office

Business leaders have recently started calling for workers to cease remote work and return to the office. They strongly believe that working face to face is best for their company and employees. The problem is that many of us have been working remotely for more than a year now — and we like the perks that come with it. Plus, the pandemic is still a major cause for concern, and no one wants to put themselves in harm’s way.

How do Americans feel about going into the office? Is there anything employers can do to entice reluctant workers to come back? To see where Americans stand on this issue, we conducted a timely study that explored current emotions and perspectives about in-office and remote work. We’ve also highlighted the benefits of different types of work plus extra perks employers could offer to help bring more people safely back to the office.

Key Takeaways:

  • 51% of respondents still working remotely said their offices had announced a plan to return to work in person.
  • 53% of those working in the office said there had been at least one COVID case in the office since returning.
  • The top three programs that would entice employees back into the office were a partial remote work program, more vacation days, and mental health check-ins.

Uncertainty about work

Over one-third of Americans are back in the office full time, while many others are still fully remote, and about 20% have a hybrid schedule. A majority of those who are fully remote reported that their companies have already made plans for them to come back to the office. According to our results, large companies were the least likely ones to have such a plan.

Statistics on how people feel about working in an office

Americans’ feelings about working in the office are mixed. Workers who have already returned to the office were happier about returning than those who were anticipating returning soon (35% vs. 25%, respectively). Managers were also happier than entry-level and associate employees about returning (42% of managers that had returned reported feeling happy to be back).

The impact of returning to work on employees’ mental health seems to depend on the individual and their employment situation. A recent study revealed that 1 in 3 workers felt returning to the office negatively impacted their mental health, while 1 in 3 workers reported a positive impact.

It’s important for employers to show compassion during these trying times. Providing on-site or additional resources for employees’ mental and physical health shows that you care about their well-being. Ensure that your employees feel appreciated and cared for by acknowledging their individual needs and offering flexibility as needed. Managers could also conduct one-on-one meetings with each employee to assess their needs and anything that could make working in the office worth it.

Perks of working from home

Many Americans have enjoyed the independence of working from home this past year or so. Remote work hasn’t been without its struggles, but it has led to an increase in employee productivity. Remote workers are 35% to 40% more productive than their office-based counterparts. Some workers have also discovered a better work-life balance (in part to nixing long commutes) and improved across a variety of skills or gained new ones.

According to our study, the skill that most workers improved during remote work was time management, followed by self-motivation and a better understanding of when they’re most productive during the work day. Half of remote workers were also able to improve their ability to fix internet issues, while 45% got better at fixing computer problems on their own. Burnout from work was reduced for 28% of Americans, too.

Work skills improved by working remotely

Many remote employees have realized other benefits of working from home like:

  • Location independence: As long as there is internet access, most people can work from anywhere they like. It’s convenient for people who move a lot because of their partner’s career or for workers in more rural locales.
  • Money savings: Workers who are permanently remote can relocate to less expensive locations. They can also save on gas, car maintenance, work clothes, dining out, parking fees, and other costs associated with going to an office. Employers have also found they can save money on overhead, real estate, and operations.
  • Cleaner environment: Fewer commuters resulted in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Other environmental impacts of remote work included a lowering of companies’ carbon footprints, a reduction in air pollution, and less use of fossil fuels.

The perks of working remotely are undeniable, which is why you may find it hard to convince your workers to return to the office. Worries about working with other people again and losing all the positive benefits they’ve gained at home may cause hesitancy in many to return.

Concerns about the office

A major worry people have about returning to the office is the risk of illness. Forty-four percent of respondents were uneasy about working alongside unvaccinated co-workers. This fear is not unfounded because 53% of offices already have had at least one case of COVID-19. Employees are also worried about other health risks and a loss in productivity. Many people disliked the thought of returning to a regular commute, too.

Statistics on employee fears about returning to work in office

Many Americans share common concerns about returning to the office. Feelings of stress and anxiety are high for some employees, with some even being willing to take a pay cut or find a new job in order to stay remote.

To put fears at ease, it’s important for employers to have and communicate a detailed return to work plan that includes health and safety initiatives and protocols. Communication from the top down needs to happen openly and often to establish trust between the employer and employees. Managers should openly encourage those who are feeling unwell to stay home and work remotely if possible. New safety measures and an empathetic company culture may help workers feel more confident about returning to work.

Why in-office work is better

While working from home comes with benefits for many, not all workers or all types of work are best suited for remote settings. For example, employees who live in places with poor or unreliable internet struggle with frustrating tech issues like poor audio and video feeds during video conferencing calls. Many people also disliked attending virtual meetings — finding it hard to collaborate with others through a computer screen.

According to our results, the top advantage to being in the office is working with co-workers in person. Respondents also claimed that they can focus better in the office than at home, and some people enjoyed having a more defined work schedule, too.

What are the benefits of working in an office

There are many other advantages of working in an office, such as developing better teamwork, presentation, or leadership skills. Working with others in person also provides networking opportunities and a chance to form better connections with co-workers. Leaders might also find it easier to manage their teams and assess workers’ skills in person. Stressing in-office benefits and positive company culture can help to mentally prepare employees for their upcoming return.

When asked what would entice them to return back to in-person employment, most people responded that they wanted a partial remote work program. So if employers offered a hybrid schedule, more people would be willing to return. More than one-third also desired more vacation days, mental health check-ins and a gradual transition back from remote work.

The pandemic has affected the needs of many employees and the types of benefits that they most want from their employers. According to recent studies, health care benefits are at the top of the list, with more people desiring COVID-related coverage.

Child care benefits are also in higher demand, as costs and availability have been affected by the pandemic. Offering on-site child care or employer-subsidized child care benefits would likely be a large draw for many. Recent figures revealed that 85% of working parents currently don’t have child care benefits. The majority of these parents stated that they would be more loyal to a company that offers child care benefits and that their productivity levels would increase.

Make returning to the office worth it

From vacation days to mental health check-ins, there are many things employers can do to ease the transition from home back to the office. A comprehensive health and safety plan is a must in order to instill confidence and trust between a business and its employees. Other perks may be offered to entice more people to come back in a safe and orderly way.

Recognize that the pandemic has changed many people and that things won’t go back exactly to the way they were. Move forward with empathy and flexibility, and provide your employees with all the tools they need to succeed in the office like fast internet that they might not otherwise have at home. Frontier offers high-speed internet and other communication services across the country. Contact Frontier today to see how we can help you prepare your office for the great return.

Methodology and limitations

We surveyed 1,002 working Americans: 443 of which were standard employees and 559 of which were managers. Additionally, for gender breakdowns, 586 respondents were men, 414 were women, and two were nonbinary. Seventy respondents were baby boomers or older, 242 respondents were from Generation X, and 690 were millennials or younger.

We did not weight our data or statistically test our hypotheses. Furthermore, survey data have limitations due to self-reporting, such as telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory. This is purely an exploratory study of how people feel about returning to their workplace offices. This survey ran during August 2021.

Fair use statement

As the pandemic goes on and new variants arise, employees and employers will continue to struggle to decide whether to go back to the office or remain working remotely. If you think this information could help someone make the decision or they may find our results interesting, feel free to share this article for noncommercial purposes. We just ask that you link back to this original article when doing so.