The Loop

2022 Trends: Still Working From Home or Back In the Office?

Filed under: Benefits

Last summer, millions of Americans returned to work in their traditional office setting, resulting in fewer working from home. However, many companies have been affected by the rise of the omicron variant. Employers that brought workers back have seen their numbers dwindle among those who haven taken ill, exposed workers quarantined back at home, and mass resignations by people who either don’t want to risk their health or to seek permanent remote work.

Some labor experts have observed that the rise of remote work has initiated the biggest transformation in working and living conditions since the second World War. Furthermore, the labor industry expects the work-from-home (WFH) phenomenon to accelerate and become an enduring workforce model in 2022.

According to the recruitment website, Ladders, the number of available permanent remote positions doubled from 9 percent to 18 percent by the end of 2021. The company predicts that this rate may increase to 25 percent in 2022. ZipRecruiter reports that, overall, jobs specifying remote work receive 300 percent more applicants than jobs that do not. Remote hospital administration listings get 92 percent more applicants and remote human resource jobs citing permanent remote work receive 70 percent more applicants.

Employer Perspective

The WFH versus onsite staffing model presents a conundrum for some companies. Many large employers have made significant investments in office buildings and/or expansive campuses that now feel like quiet ghost towns. For this reason, they may be against allowing employees to keep working from home indefinitely.

However, they do have options. Employers can downsize to accommodate a hybrid workforce, comprised of core onsite staff, people who prefer to work onsite, workers who work part-time from home, and a cache of satellite employees. They can adapt some of their buildings and worksite spaces and rent them out to retail outlets such as a hair salon, coffee shop, dry cleaners, or a yoga studio, in order to generate revenues. Companies may even want to offer the option to convert full or part-time positions to independent contractor. This would give workers the independence and flexibility they crave, while offering overhead and benefits savings to the employer.

In the past, many employers resisted remote work because they believed employees would be less productive, less collaborative, and it would be divisive for the company culture. And yet, the past two years of data has in many way assuaged these concerns. Recent studies reveal that working remotely from home can be more productive than working in an office setting. On average, those who work from home:

  • Spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive
  • Start their workday earlier because they eliminate the commute to work
  • Work one more day a week
  • Are 47% more productive

A study by Stanford University found that enhanced job performance at home was due to a quieter work environment, fewer breaks, fewer sick days, higher work satisfaction, a 50 percent reduction in attrition.

Worker Preferences

A survey conducted by ZipRecruiter in the fall of 2021 found that 54 percent of workers prefer a job that allows them to work from home. Before COVID-19, only three percent of jobs offered this option, but now that rate has increased to about one out of ten jobs. It appears that employers are beginning to recognize the merits of at-home work or at least are willing to offer the option in an effort to retain and recruit workers in today’s tight job market.

Some of the perks workers enjoy from the WFH option include:

  • No commute. One survey found that, on average, workers save 8.5 hours a week (408 hours a year) by not commuting to work.
  • Fewer chats and distractions. While some employees enjoy workplace socializing, a recent survey found that office small talk makes 66% of workers feel anxious; working from home enables them to avoid that social awkwardness.
  • Better work/life balance. With no commute and less opportunity to socialize, remote workers have more time to get the kids off to school, enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, and exercise during breaks. The higher quality use of their time is positive for mental and physical health and can help relieve constant feelings of stress that they experience in the work environment.
  • Reduce inertia. People who have begun working from home report that they get 30 more minutes of exercise during the workweek.
  • Maximize productivity. One study discovered that 86% of workers prefer working alone and are more productive – which also may increase job satisfaction.
  • Childcare flexibility. While most people working from home with young children need childcare, they can at least be available when their children are home due to illness or holidays.
  • Less sickness. Working from home reduces human interaction, which helps lower the risk of COVID exposure as well as other contagious conditions (e.g., flu, colds). This helps nurture a healthier workforce, reduces sick days, and keeps healthcare expenses down.

Workers Who Prefer the Office

Despite the explosive popularity of remote work, not all employees want to work from home. A recent survey by the market research firm OnePoll found that nine 9 out of 10 workers are looking forward to returning to the office in 2022. 

However, their reasons for doing so may not be all that beneficial for their employers. Among them, 60 percent say they want to meet new coworkers and catch up with their old ones. A survey by Airtasker found that seven out of ten workers rate social relationships as important as getting work done in the office.

Virtual meetings also are wearing thin on remote workers. Among 87 percent of workers who are ready to ditch them, 48 percent are looking forward to the return of in-person meetings.

Policies For a Hybrid Workforce

Moving forward, it’s important for employers to consider the pros and cons of continuing to offer a WFH option. After all, now that workers have had a taste for it, they are more likely to seek jobs that offer remote work at least part of the time. Providing this type of workplace flexibility gives companies a whole new pool of talent – including across state lines and even overseas. To accommodate workers and successfully recruit and retain a productive workforce in the future, it is important to consider the types of benefits that best meet the needs of a hybrid workforce.

Home Office Productivity

One aspect of WFH that can improve job performance and productivity is home office support – from ergonomic furniture and accessories to office supplies and an optimal internet connection. A recent study found that 46 percent of WFH employees do not receive monetary help from their employer to pay for these types of remote work expenses. Employers that offer commuting or parking expense reimbursements may use this same type of policy for at-home office expenses.

Mental Health

Everyone needs work/life balance, no matter where they work. That’s why it’s important for companies to recognize that working from home may not be an optimal environment for everyone. Continuous access to “the office” makes it easy for people to work longer hours. Some workers who may have lost care resources are having to juggle child and/or elder care while working fulltime at home. While preferred by many workers, working from home can lead to burnout just as easily as working long hours in the office.

Throughout the pandemic, employers have sought to address workforce mental health via  employee assistance programs (EAP), stepped-up communications regarding existing mental health resources, and connecting workers to digital (e.g. apps) mental health offerings. However, this is an area that can be greatly improved.

Child/Elder Care

Many employees – particularly women – have had to leave the workforce due to the closure of schools, daycare, and eldercare resources. Moving forward, employers need to consider various types of benefits that will tempt women back into the workforce, such as a generous childcare plan and eldercare resources. It also may be necessary to create more parity in compensation so that employed mothers earn substantially more than just the cost of childcare.

Professional Development

Today, nearly half the workforce is comprised of Millennials and Generation Z. While young adults are very interested in working offsite, they are likely the ones who benefit the most from collaborations that happen organically in the office and by developing professional relationships.

One of the key benefits employers can provide the hybrid workforce is a strong mentorship program, regardless of where workers are physically located. Regular interactions, whether virtual or in-person, can help build trust. Employers should consider establishing a WFH-friendly mentorship program for the hybrid workforce to help develop young professionals and establish individual career paths that benefit both workers and employers. This is an opportunity that can be tapped among older workers who are looking to phase into retirement, or who no longer want to work onsite. By transitioning older workers into a training role, companies can both retain institutional knowledge and help train younger workers at the same time.

Onsite Amenities

Employers seeking to lure workers back to the office may want to consider investing in more amenities, such as onsite childcare, laundry/dry-cleaning drop-off, fitness classes, and retail spaces. More open-air seating and outdoor gathering spaces are likely to be popular for luncheon, breaks, walking, meetings, and sheltered/private work areas for those concerned about indoor contagion. It is incumbent on employers to communicate compelling reasons why workers should have to return to the office, while also making it an attractive option to do so.

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