The Great Return-to-Office Has Some Kinks to Work Out

August 23, 2022

Over the last month, several high profile companies set off another round of return-to-office debates by mandating return-to-office policies for many corporate employees. As COVID restrictions ease, many technology companies have set firm deadlines for employees to return-to-office at least three days per week. Apple Inc made the news this week with a post-Labor Day deadline for all of its corporate staff. Peloton Interactive Inc, Comcast Corp, Tesla and AT&T are among the growing list of companies firmly urging their employees to come back into the office. 

In the battle of remote vs hybrid, many large tech companies have decidedly ruled in favor of hybrid work. Almost half of US tech workers are already working on some form of hybrid model but the data suggests that the Great Return may not offer the benefits some may have expected.

We surveyed 100+ hiring managers, startup leaders, and tech workers in the Underdog.io network to understand the impact of the return-to-office push. Keep reading for a breakdown of the survey results, a collection of return-to-office best practices and exclusive access to our Hiring during the return-to-office webinar.

Survey Says: Return-to-Office Doesn’t Lead to More Collaboration

Much like the wider job market, almost half of all survey respondents work partially at home and partially in the office. 55% of survey respondents work on a hybrid model while 36% are fully remote. Only 9% of respondents work full time in an office. With the majority of tech workers in an office at least half the time, the data suggests that the tide has officially turned in favor of hybrid work. In New York City, a whopping 78% of workplaces have adopted a hybrid model, with 38% of office workers at their desks on any given day. 

Most workers are on some type of hybrid work model.

Of the respondents working on a hybrid model, 67% are in the office three days a week. Contrary to initial reports that crowned Wednesday the “new Monday,” the most common days of the week to be in an office are Tuesday and Thursday. This data echoes the hybrid policies of large technology companies like Google, who recently established a hybrid schedule with employees at home two days a week and in the office the other three days.

More than half of respondents believe their team is adjusting badly to hybrid work.

Interestingly enough, for all the debate hybrid work has inspired, the data also reveals discontentment among hybrid teams. When asked how their teams were responding to hybrid work, the average rating amongst respondents was a 4 out of 10. 58% of respondents rated their team’s hybrid response lower than 5, signaling that returning to the office may not be as simple as mandating a new policy. In addition to their team’s contentment levels, we also asked respondents if they noticed any benefits since returning to office. 23% of respondents cited increased collaboration, while 33% reported no noticeable benefits from returning to the office. Many proponents of hybrid work champion benefits such as improved morale, relationship-building opportunities, and increased productivity. Our data reveals that less than 20% of survey respondents experienced improved morale or increased relationship-building opportunities. 

Return to office messaging needs major work.

Having a Clear Plan Makes the Return-to-Office Better

Even still, there are many tech workers who prefer to work in an office at least part time. A recent Salesforce survey noted that 64% of employees would prefer to work on a hybrid model. So what does this mean for tech companies trying to set policies that benefit their teams and support their company's mission? How does one navigate the return-to-office without risking employee churn or disengagement? Like with most things, the best hybrid models are unique to the specific needs of a given company or team. 

Of the company respondents that had already returned to the office or were planning to, only 45% of respondents reported that their company’s had communicated return-to-office plans. 

In the same vein, only 33% of respondents reported that their companies hosted training sessions, up-skilling events, or made tech upgrades to prepare for hybrid work. Less than 20% of respondents cited that their teams held team-specific planning sessions.

Less than half of all respondents reported company wide RTO plans.

Unsurprisingly, 72% of respondents who’s companies had clear return-to-office plans also rated their team’s contentment at a 6 or higher. Companies with flexible, thorough, and easy to understand return-to-office plans tend to create processes that lead to happier employees. Companies without clearly communicated plans are more likely to build processes that are out of touch with employee’s needs. 

The last few years have seen an unprecedented level of uncertainty and massive transitions across industries. The return-to-office trend is the culmination of a revolution in how knowledge workers work. Hybrid work is so drastically different from pre-pandemic work models that even the most experienced people managers are struggling to build policies that achieve their business goals without alienating employees. 

While there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all return-to-office plan, at minimum, employees want to be a part of the conversation that will once again upend their routines. People managers will need to find new ways to communicate the value of the office beyond ping pong tables and free meals. The remote revolution taught all of us that work can get done wherever we are. The hybrid revolution should demonstrate the intangible benefits of in-person collaboration and communication. 

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