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Back to the Office: The 2024 Workplace Outlook

by Concero on April 4, 2024 in Recruitment

 

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If you’re familiar with Concero’s work culture, you know we value in-person collaboration over almost anything. But we also understand that good humans can do great work almost anywhere, depending on the situation, which makes the ongoing debate over coming back to the office so compelling.

The future of work seems anything but certain from our current vantage point. While 2023 saw some return-to-office mandates, many companies opted for a flexible approach, allowing some remote work while encouraging employees to return to offices to collaborate more closely with colleagues. Companies such as Dallas-based AT&T and Capital One both reopened offices and began encouraging workers to return with mixed results. More recently, AT&T, along with companies like Google, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, shifted from flexible to firm stances on in-person attendance.

With some of the biggest names in business increasingly mandating a return to the office, now is the perfect time to evaluate the WFH debate. We’ll examine policy changes surrounding the return to the office, including the shift from efforts to entice workers back to the office with perks to a “less friendly” approach. We’ll also look ahead to trends for later this year and what employers and employees need to consider when thinking about a return to the office.

From Perks to Punishment: The Shift in Return to Office Policies

Debates around returning to the office and remote employee productivity began to heat up in 2022 as the pandemic eased and offices around the country started to re-open. Initially, many organizations opted for a hybrid or flexible approach, allowing remote work to continue but encouraging employees to come into the office when possible. This allowed employees who favored WFH to continue working in comfier surroundings, while social butterflies could opt for an office setting whenever they liked. For employees who had proved they could work effectively from home during the pandemic, flexible policies felt like a fair compromise.

However, employers’ views began to change in 2023. Concerns around productivity, company culture, and employee development pushed some companies to take a more hardline approach, mandating in-office work at least some of the time for all employees. Companies also stopped offering the incentives that had helped bring employees back to the office, perks such as free lunches and reimbursement for commuting costs. Other companies went a step further, drawing a line in the sand on remote work, monitoring employees’ productivity, and, in some cases, mandating a full return to the office—like we said: “less friendly.”

In 2024, many organizations have continued this punitive approach, tying office attendance to performance reviews, and threatening those who don’t come in enough with the loss of promotions, bonuses, and even their jobs. According to a recent Resume Builder poll which surveyed 800 business leaders, 8 in 10 reported they will track employee office attendance in 2024, and more than 95% said employees would suffer consequences for non-compliance (yikes). While companies have argued that onsite work drives productivity, innovation, and teamwork, many employees feel frustrated and betrayed. Those unhappy with RTO mandates have begun quiet quitting, coffee badging, and looking for alternatives.

Workplace Trends in 2024 and Returning to the Office

We think there are ways to make returning to the office a success for everyone—without punishments or resorting to coffee badging. Let’s dive deeper into 2024’s workplace trends and start paving a smoother path back to work.

1. Flexibility Still Matters

While debates around productivity at home and in the office continue, it’s clear that employees want flexibility no matter where they work. Yes, there are legitimate reasons that companies want workers in the office, but no one likes being told where they must spend their time. Companies that are too inflexible with their RTO policies are likely to lose out on top talent, and even if employees don’t quit, they’re unlikely to be fully engaged at work. As a result, flexibility will be crucial to ensuring that employees are productive in 2024. We’re lucky that Conceroans thrive on being around each other, but not every company can be so lucky!

2. Work-Life Balance Comes First

Flexibility is undoubtedly important, but for many employees and job seekers, it doesn’t top their list of priorities. In fact, other job qualities like work-life balance, recognition and rewards, and company culture—something we pride ourselves on—have been found to be more important. These findings also highlight the fact that dissatisfaction around returning to the office might be less about the commute and more about the office and culture people have to work in. If employers can ensure that policies related to these work arrangements are employee-friendly, they will be more successful at retaining employees and attracting new talent.

3. Focus on the Why

Strict return-to-office policies have frustrated many employees who feel that RTO mandates are unreasonable. As they see it, remote work hasn’t created losses in performance or engagement, so demanding a return to the office is simply stubbornness from leadership. In addition, requiring them to work on-site signals a lack of distrust on the part of companies and discounts what employees have accomplished remotely in the last few years. To address these concerns, companies need to focus on the why behind returning to the office. Collaborative team sessions, coffee chats with executives, mentoring opportunities, and professional development programs all help employees feel they have a reason to be in the office. Focusing on the why behind return to office policies and emphasizing the impact on company culture will encourage employee compliance more effectively than any punishment.

4. Ease the Transition

When companies like AT&T mandated a return to the office, they didn’t make it easy. In addition to requiring employees who had been remote pre-pandemic to work from the office, they simultaneously reduced the number of offices employees could work from, requiring some workers to relocate without assistance. To avoid this scenario and ease the transition, companies will need to allow employees sufficient time to make the necessary changes that RTO requires. Start by considering age and lifestyle differences. While some younger workers may be willing and able to return to offices, older generations or employees with families may need longer to adjust. Accounting for these differences and aligning expectations accordingly will ensure everyone is able to return without causing additional problems for employees.

Changing Ideas Around RTO

While employers are likely to continue pushing return-to-office mandates in the year ahead, how they define and shape RTO can change for the better. With increasing flexibility and employee feedback on what’s working and what isn’t, companies have an opportunity to establish new in-office norms and policies that satisfy everyone.

Ready to return to the office with a new career? Need to fill your workplace with a dream team of talent? Get started today!

 

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