Why forcing workers back to the office could be a bad idea

Nov 16, 2023

Remote jobs are disappearing.

At the height of the pandemic, almost 50% of Americans worked from home full time, up from 2% pre-pandemic. Now, less than 10% of workers have a fully remote job.

Businesses shifted to remote work models out of necessity during the pandemic, but many have now reverted to requiring workers to return to the office.

A recent ResumeBuilder survey of 1,000 corporate decision makers found that 90% of companies will return to the office by 2024, and only 2% say they never plan to ask employees to return to the office. Furthermore, 72% say requiring a return to office has improved revenue.

Does this mean that the remote work “experiment” failed? Or are companies making an even bigger mistake by forcing their employees to return to the office?

As cited in the above survey, businesses say they want employees to return because they can make more money. They also say a return to work will improve company culture, productivity, and employee retention. 

How can this be, when just a few years ago, during the height of the pandemic, the same businesses said the work from home model improved culture, retention and productivity?

To be sure, companies are in a tough spot. They must now weigh the potential opportunity (increased revenue) against the negatives.

Requiring employees to return to work could cause companies to lose top-talent employees who value work life balance more than they value climbing the corporate ladder. According to a report by Criteria Corp, 56% of hiring professionals at companies that operate mostly in person say turnover is a major issue, compared to 50% for hybrid companies and 41% for companies that are mostly remote.

There’s also data that shows that employee engagement suffers with return to work policies. In a Gallup survey, employees said they experienced lower engagement and higher levels of burnout when forced to return to work.

As for the notion of being able to improve culture through return to work, it’s important to remember that culture is fundamentally about people and behavior, not about a physical space. The same holds true when it comes to belonging. Belonging is more about inclusion and acceptance than a street address.

Another factor to consider is diversity and inclusivity. The ability to hire remote workers from outside the radius of a physical office can lead to a more diverse workforce. In addition, people of color are far more likely to favor remote work than their white colleagues – as they are less likely to experience discrimination or microagressions when they work remotely.

So, although we’re no longer in the thick of the pandemic, it seems that the benefits of remote work still hold true. Employees who work from home continue to report higher job satisfaction, engagement, and have a greater work life balance.

At WAHVE, our foundation is built on the belief that fostering a remote work model is precisely what enables experienced professionals to remain engaged, stay healthier, live longer, enjoy greater financial freedom, and find better work-life balance. We have evolved to help the insurance industry keep its retiring talent as well qualify the right talent for better, more diverse hires. The model worked prior to the pandemic and continues to work now. It’s what enables us to continue to create a positive difference in the lives of our pretirees and for the companies who hire them.

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