Where’s the disconnect?
When COVID-19 first hit and offices closed, we all expected to be back in the office in a few weeks. Over two years later, many offices are now reopening and bringing employees back on-site. But when it comes to the office, if you build it, they may not come.
So many years of remote work have led to a “Great Disconnect” between employers and employees: Bosses want employees back on-site, but workers want to keep working from home. The million-dollar question then is: How can businesses resolve the disconnect and get their employees back to their desks?
We surveyed 800 work-from-home employees to find out how they spend their work hours and why they don’t want to return to the office. How much Netflix do they watch while they “work,” and does it ever get them in trouble? Do they work multiple jobs? Are they willing to return to the office, or would they rather find a new remote job?
We also surveyed 200 business leaders about the importance of having employees in the office. How much money are they paying for their employees to watch Netflix? How are they going to lure these employees back to the office? Are they content with employees resigning in favor of staying home, or are they willing to compromise?
What are the costs of “The Great Disconnect,” and what might it mean for the future of the workplace?
“Netflix and chilling” isn’t free
Let’s be real: Working from home doesn’t always involve actual work. Remote employees regularly waste time on activities that have nothing to do with their job. While this might mean happy employees, does it also mean employers are losing money?
According to our survey, remote employees wasted the most work time exercising, streaming TV and music, and cleaning. Unfortunately, binge-watching “Stranger Things” during work hours can get you caught and reprimanded by your boss. On the other hand, if your dishes are piling up or your shower needs a good scrub down, have at it; we found that employees were most likely to have gotten away with a bit of cleaning on the clock.
Other workday activities seemed to attract different generations. Millennials were the most likely to spend work hours watching adult content and having intercourse. Meanwhile, their teammates weren’t having as much fun: Gen Xers were more likely to spend their workday running errands than other generations, and Gen Zers (79%) were more likely to juggle multiple jobs while working. Some distractions were less easy to control, like who remote workers shared their space with: Almost half of the millennials admitted being distracted by their children (42%), while Gen Zers were almost equally distracted by their pets (41%).
Why would anyone want to go back to the office?
With all this freedom during the workday, it’s no wonder remote employees are hesitant to give up their home office. But what would they miss most, and what can employers offer to make them want to return?
Work-from-home employees love their freedom of increased work-life balance and won’t surrender it easily. Returning to the office would mean giving up flexible hours and seeing less of their families. It also might mean more time spent commuting, sharing public restrooms, and working in silence (or worse: having to listen to bad music). A return to the office could also lead to less sleep, as remote workers have the flexibility to take an afternoon nap to boost their productivity. Those are some reasons why most remote employees are so reluctant to give up their freedom, 78% said they’d rather take a pay cut to stay at home than return to the office. Gen Z respondents were the most willing to do so.
But money talks. According to the employees we surveyed, return-to-office bonuses and higher salaries would significantly increase their companies’ chances of getting them back to their desks. Payment in cryptocurrency was also a potential lure, but men were 22% more likely than women to be enticed back to the office by payments in cryptocurrency.
Employees who valued their free time while working from home said they could be brought back with an offer of a flexible schedule, a four-day workweek, or extra vacation days. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to throw in some free food. Taco bar, anyone?
Weighing incentives against resignations
Employers may want employees back in the office, but they’re not necessarily desperate for their current employees. How much are employers willing to offer for their staff to return? And are they willing to lose them by demanding in-office work?
According to the business leaders we surveyed, remote employees had the highest morale, but on-site employees demonstrated the most productivity. Still, more than one-third of employers viewed remote workers as more expendable than on-site workers. And since hiring new talent can be costly, all but 9% of employers were willing to offer incentives to get remote workers back in the building.
The most common incentives employers were ready to offer aligned with what remote employees wanted most: more freedom with their time. Employers put flexible and hybrid work schedules at the top of their list of possible incentives. Half were even willing to shorten the workweek from five days to four. More pay and extra vacation days were also on the table (along with that free food), but employees may not want to push their luck…
More than half of employers surveyed would be content with an employee resigning over having to return to in-person work. Some (12%) even admitted using a return-to-the-office mandate to terminate employees without having to lay them off. So, if you want to keep your job, you may have to go back to the office.
Finding balance between freedom and profits
For the past two years, remote employees have lived their best lives while it may appear that employers paid the price. Wasted work hours, decreased productivity, and loss of camaraderie have led to a push for employees to return to the office. But the tiresome commute and stifling five-day workweek no longer feel worth the pay for many employees. Employers can only offer so much as an incentive before the cost outweighs the gain.
Where does that leave the future of the workplace? It all hangs in the balance.
As more companies experiment with hybrid work structures and four-day workweeks, remote employees may be able to hold on to some of the freedom they cherish. With more employees back at their desks (even if not for the full nine-to-five), employers should hopefully see productivity return as well, re-establishing a positive return on the investment in their employees. With better work-life balance, employees tend to be more productive, focused, and innovative at work. And with that comes an increase in employer profits.
So, despite the uncertainty of the past two years in the workplace, life after “The Great Disconnect” may turn out to be a win-win.
OSlash surveyed 1,002 respondents to explore the habits of work-from-home employees to determine what factors are leading to the great disconnect and what business leaders plan to do to create resolution.
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