HR Management & Compliance

A Return to the Office: When, How, and Whether

As the United States continues to forge ahead in its vaccination efforts, many employers and employees are looking to an eventual return to the office. But employee attitudes toward remote work and concerns about the safety of reopening need to be balanced against the benefit of bringing staff back to the office.

return to office
Source: Kelleher Photography / Shutterstock

Employees Want Flexibility

According to a survey conducted by Harvard Business School Online, the vast majority of employees want some kind of flexibility in terms of remote work:

  • 81% either don’t want to go back to the office or would prefer a hybrid schedule going forward.
  • 27% hope to work remotely full time.
  • 61% would like to work 2–3 days a week from home.
  • 18% want to go back to the office full time.

The survey found that demographic factors played a role in those preferences.

But Differences Impact Preferences

There seems to be a correlation between those who have regular contact with others at home and their views on going back into the office:

  • Parents with kids at home want to go back full time more than those without children.
  • Married people also want to go back full time more than singles.

The survey also found that attitudes toward returning to the office are partially based on health and safety concerns.

Health Concerns Impact Perspective

Many respondents have certain conditions they want met before they will feel safe returning to on-site work:

  • 51% are uncomfortable going back to the office until they’re fully vaccinated.
  • 71% are hesitant to go back until everyone is fully vaccinated.
  • 54% expect social distancing—everyone is seated at least 6 feet apart and required to wear masks.

One of the big insights HR professionals and managers should take away from the Harvard survey data is that there is no clear-cut answer for whether employees want to go back to the office as the pandemic continues to subside.

Strive to Address a Wide Range of Needs and Preferences

Depending on their specific circumstances, they may want to continue to work remotely full time, come back to the office full time, or have some kind of hybrid schedule. Moreover, companies need to be cognizant of the conditions under which employees are willing to return to the office and make the necessary adjustments to ensure they feel safe doing so.