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Remote work

Return-to-office mandates are failing worldwide

Employees attend offices less than mandated, reflecting a growing demand for remote and hybrid work

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70% of offices have less than 40% attendance on average.
Without remote and hybrid work, millions of people would be unable to access employment.
Resistance to office work will persist if employees feel they can effectively work from home.

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Employees at companies requiring office attendance twice a week are, on average, showing up only 1.4 days per week, mirroring the attendance figures of those with no mandatory office presence, reveals a study by workplace consultancy AWA.

Gemma Dale, a business lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, emphasized that employees are resisting enforced office working structures. In an interview with HR magazine, she stated, “We know that the demand for remote and hybrid work has been sustained. People want it, are prepared to switch jobs for it, and have tailored their lives and budgets accordingly, which is particularly crucial in the current economic climate.”

Dale added, “People will continue to resist demands to return to the office that conflict with their preferences, and importantly when they cannot see the benefits to them or how they do their work. Too many return to office attempts can seem to lack logic or clear rationales.”

In the UK, employees are attending the office 1.6 days a week, up from 1.45 a year ago, according to AWA’s research. The study also found that 70% of offices have less than 40% attendance on average, and 37% are considering consolidating office space due to reduced demand.

This research highlights the desire that people have to work from anywhere, not just the office, and policies need to accommodate this.

However, despite the evident shift towards flexible work arrangements, 46% of offices surveyed lack a dedicated hybrid working policy.

Ben Marks, executive director of the #WorkAnywhere Campaign, stressed the importance of businesses crafting flexible policies aligned with employees’ needs. He said, “This research highlights the desire that people have to work from anywhere, not just the office, and policies need to accommodate this.”

Marks emphasized, “Without remote and hybrid work, millions of people, including many parents, carers, and people with disabilities, would be unable to access employment, and businesses need to recognize that a dogmatic back-to-the-office approach is a huge step backwards. That’s why it’s crucial that we build on the progress of the last few years and create a future of work that actually works for everyone.”

Several major companies, such as Amazon, Zoom, and Meta, have implemented a return-to-office mandate, each experiencing varying levels of success.

Dale argued that resistance to office work will persist if employees feel they can effectively work from home. She urged organizations to communicate the reasons for in-person attendance clearly, emphasizing the need to make the office experience worthwhile rather than imposing mandates.

“Most people desire autonomy, and obligatory mandates work against this. Providing autonomy is good for well-being, motivation, and engagement, and blunt policies will only cause resentment,” Dale concluded.

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