Managing Expectations for Returning to the Office

With daily vaccinations increasing, the option to return to the office is getting closer and closer. (We’re looking at you, Q3).

So how do employers and employees feel about a potential return? In this article, we examine expectations from both sides and what that means for the second half of this year.

To return to the office or not? That is the question. Or is it? A recent PwC survey of 133 executives and 1,200 office workers suggests that only a fraction of leaders are weighing whether they’ll return. Instead, they are debating how often.

  • Only 1 in 5 executives felt, to maintain a strong company culture, employees needed to be in the office five days per week.
  • Conversely, nearly 4 out of 5 executives felt four or fewer days per week were enough. 

Is three the magic number? There wasn’t a consensus among respondents on how frequent employees should be onsite, but three days per week seemed to be a tipping point.

  • The plurality of executives (29%) said three days a week was all that was necessary to keep a strong company culture.
  • But that leaves 71% of executives who felt three wasn’t right. The remaining were evenly split — 39% said four or more days were necessary, while 36% said two or fewer were all that was needed.
  • For employees? More than half (55%) would prefer to be offsite three or more days per week. 

Too soon? Executives appear to have an optimistic outlook about returning to the office and remote work in general. Employees, on the other hand? Not so much.

  • 75% of executives anticipate at least half of their office workforce will be back onsite by July. Only 61% of office workers agreed.
  • 83% of executives reported remote work being a success. Only 71% of employees did. A larger percent of employees felt the results were mixed.
  • 52% of employers felt average employee productivity has higher than before the pandemic. Only 34% of employees felt the same.

Why the disconnect? It appears to be driven by how well (or how poorly) companies have adopted effective and equitable technologies and processes that support remote work.

  • Think you’ve done enough? If you’re not routinely asking your employees, you likely haven’t. In the survey, executives overwhelmingly felt they have put into place effective remote work tech and processes. Employees felt otherwise.
  • For example, 81% of executives said their company had successfully extended benefits for childcare. Just 45% of employees said the same.

What’s next? For the overwhelming majority of organizations, post-pandemic work will be hybrid. What that looks like exactly is still TBD.

  • But if employers aren’t careful, rose-tinted glasses may create a workplace that is the worst of all worlds.

Now’s the time to start working collaboratively with staff to build a hybrid environment that is as beneficial as everyone hopes it will be.

This article first appeared in our weekly Elevating HR newsletter. Check it out and sign up on our newsletter page.

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