Since the pandemic upended office life, many workers have grown accustomed to their work-from-home schedule. However, these days companies are implementing RTO (return to office) strategies that are being met with mixed feelings by the workers they affect.

We surveyed 1,000 businesses and remote workers to find out where they are aligned on RTO and where there may be resistance.

The results:

  • 68% of companies will be increasing the number of days required in person over the next six months
  • 92% of businesses are open to negotiating with employees over remote work, but 9 in 10 say they are likely to fire employees who don’t comply
  • Half of workers say they’ll quit if required to work more frequently in person
  • Both workers and employers agree that increasing salaries is a solid strategy for encouraging RTO

90% of Businesses Say They Will Fire Employees Who Don’t Comply with RTO Mandates

When businesses were asked how likely they would be to fire employees who are unwilling to return to work in person, 44% said ‘somewhat’ likely while 46% said ‘very’ likely. In fact, 15% of businesses said they would be willing to fire 50% or more of their employees for not complying with RTO mandates.

“You have to decide on your company culture, and weigh the risks and benefits of bringing people back to the office,” commented small business advocate Dennis Consorte. “Generally, extroverts will thrive in an in-office environment, whereas introverts will thrive working at home. Flexibility is the best answer because it gives people more choices and ownership of their decisions.”

“The other thing to consider is that many people relocated during the COVID lockdowns,” said Consorte. “They found homes in other locations to save on expenses, to be near family, or to experience better weather, among other reasons.”

“Requiring them to return to office means taking away whatever they might have built during their time out of office. This can cause feelings of resentment among workers, and even if they do come back, they would be unhappy and likely to have a negative influence on other workers.”

52% of Workers Willing to Quit Over RTO Mandates

It would appear that workers are also willing to play hardball over RTO. Thirty-two percent say they are ‘somewhat’ likely to quit if their employer requires them to work more days in person than they are willing to, while 21% say they would be ‘very’ likely to quit. In fact, 7% even said that a 25% raise would not be enough to entice them back to working in person.

“The war on talent is still out there and it’s a candidate market, regardless of the economy right now,” commented career strategist Stacie Haller. “Top talent can still leave a company for a better remote position in this market and most companies cannot afford that.”

“They will be competing for top talent in a much smaller pool if they rule out those who want to work remotely. Look at companies such as Airbnb who understand this and are flourishing by attracting the workforce they need. I believe we will all land in a hybrid state that can meet the needs of companies as well as employees,” she continued.

When asked why they would rather quit, 65% of respondents in this group said the flexibility of remote work was too important to them, 57% said they save money working from home, 24% have moved farther away from their workplace, and 16% dislike working in person with others.

Additionally, two-thirds (67%) of remote workers say they believe it would be ‘somewhat’ (43%) or ‘very’ (24%) easy for them to find another job that would allow them to work remotely as often as they want to.

“More than half of workers are ready to quit their jobs if they are required to return-to-office. This should send a signal to employers that the world is shifting towards a remote-first environment,” said Consorte. “Higher pay and benefits might be enough for some people, but flexibility needs to be taken into account, too.”

“Offering people even one day per week to work from home can go a long way,” he continued. “People have gotten used to avoiding commutes and having the flexibility to take care of personal errands and responsibilities without taking a full day off.”

“Data shows that many businesses will see no losses from giving people the flexibility they want. In fact, the extra flexibility could contribute to overall employee wellness, which means greater productivity and higher profits as a result,” he said.

68% of Companies Will Require More In-Person Work Days

It looks like both employers and workers will face some tough decisions in the near future. When asked what their plans were for remote vs in-person work over the next six months, more than two-thirds of businesses stated that they plan to increase the number of days and/or employees that are required to be in person.

“The reasons companies gave for RTO have been changing as they continually try to lure employees back to the office,” said Haller. “At first, it was all about productivity, until every single survey supported the fact that employees are more productive working from home. Then the conversation pivoted to a focus on collaboration.”

Thirty-four percent of this group said they will require around one-quarter of their employees to work at least partially in person, 34% will require about half their workforce, 24% will require three-quarters of their workforce, and 7% will require all employees to come in at least some of the time.

When asked how frequently these employees will be required to come in, the top answers were either 5 days/week (31% of respondents) or 4 days/week (28% of respondents).

Most Employees Want to Work Remotely the Majority of the Time

Although 59% of companies say they plan to have employees work in person either 4 days/week or 5 days/week, the majority of employees would prefer to work in person just 3 days/week or less.

Just one-quarter (26%) of workers say they would be willing to work fully in person if required by their employer, while 6% say they would ‘never’ be willing to work in person even if required.

“The world is shifting towards a remote-first work environment,” continued Consorte. “Technology has made this possible for many years, and the pandemic lockdowns forced companies and workers to adapt.”

“Workers who function remotely now will no doubt have an opportunity to find remote work elsewhere if they leave their jobs. In fact, I expect there will be more remote opportunities available in the near future, thanks to video conferencing and even the Metaverse,” he said.

Both Employers and Workers Agree That Increasing Salaries Will Be Key to RTO

When asked what, if anything, would entice them to work more days in person, the top answer given by workers was a pay increase (67%), followed by a vacation time increase (46%), and a transportation stipend (40%).

“There are several ways companies are luring employees back to the office, but the one that may hit home the most is the increase in pay,” continued Haller. “It is costly for employees to commute, and working from home has not only saved time but given each employee a ‘raise’ without those costs. It still may not be enough for many workers, but for some, this may be what is needed to get them back to the office at least on some days.”

92% of Companies Are Open to Negotiations

The good news for workers is that the vast majority of companies are ‘somewhat’ (52%) or ‘very’ (40%) open to negotiating with employees who don’t want to work in person. Additionally, businesses demonstrated a willingness to provide the incentives that employees rated as most important to them.

Sixty percent of businesses say they will offer pay increases as incentives to employees, 47% will offer vacation time increases, and 43% will offer transportation stipends.

RTO is coming, whether workers like it or not. And while large portions of employers are willing to fire workers who do not comply, and large portions of workers are willing to quit if forced, the good news for both is that there is room to negotiate, especially where salaries are concerned.

“The businesses that will thrive are those that adapt to new technology and mindset shifts,” advised Consorte. “Those that offer the most flexibility in combination with the best compensation packages will attract top talent. With this in mind, of course, there are many workers who need interpersonal connections that can only be had in the office. There’s a market for that too, and those workers may be able to negotiate higher compensation in return for being on-site.”

“Regardless, it is true that facetime has value, and remote workers should consider the potential loss of opportunities that might otherwise arise if they were on-site. If they want to grow in their careers, then a hybrid schedule or at least occasional visits to the office might make a lot of sense,” Consorte finished.

Methodology

These surveys were commissioned by Digital.com and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish between October 12 and October 13, 2022. In total, 1,000 participants in the United States were surveyed.

All participants in the “workers” survey had to clear demographic filters and screening questions to ensure they were age 18 or above, currently employed for wages, working remotely at least 1 day/week, and have an employer with a physical workplace.

All participants in the “employer” survey had to clear demographic filters and screening questions to ensure they were age 25 or older, employed as a president, CEO, chairperson, owner, partner, or HR manager of a business, have a physical workplace for their business, and currently have either a fully remote or hybrid work policy.

For any questions, please contact [email protected]