Learning & Development

The Corporate Pushback to Remote Work

The COVID-19 pandemic was a major shock to the globe in so many ways, like the millions of deaths and hundreds of millions of infections, supply chain shocks, new and large-scale government health and safety regulations, and massive spending on vaccine research and social safety nets. While these impacts have been subsiding as the pandemic has eased, millions of workers around the globe have continued to enjoy one unexpected boon of an otherwise tragic global health crisis: remote work.

A Quick Shift to Remote Work

At the start of the pandemic, companies around the globe shifted huge numbers of employees to remote work in an effort (often imposed by local, state, or national governments) to curb the spread of the virus. Now that the pandemic has subsided, however, employees are loathe to give up their newfound flexibility.

While many employers have been pleasantly surprised by the results of the forced remote work experiment, many are eager to get staff back into the office.

And a Challenge Getting Them Back to the Office

“In many cases, knowledge workers are now better able to fit their job demands around their personal lives—something they’ve relished, and are reluctant to surrender as employers call workers back into offices,” says Alex Christian in an article for BBC Worklife.

Having had a taste of the freedom and flexibility remote work provides, workers are reluctant to give it up.

Christian points to a July 2022 study by McKinsey & Company based on input from 13,382 global workers, who indicated that workplace flexibility was a top motivator—40% cited flexibility as a key factor in staying in a role, which was second only to salary at 41%.

“A lack of flexibility was also a major factor in resigning, with 26% saying this was a main cause for quitting their previous job,” Christian says. “Similarly, a March 2022 Gallup study of more than 140,000 US employees, 54% of fully remote workers and 38% of hybrid workers said they would look for another job if their company stopped offering remote-work options.”

Employers Continuing to Push

Nevertheless, many employers are pushing staff to return to the office, setting up a long-term source of tension in the labor market. “March 2022 research from Microsoft showed half of global business leaders surveyed have plans to require full-time in person work in the future, if they haven’t instituted it already,” says Christian.

Employers shouldn’t necessarily feel compelled to accommodate all employee demands for flexible work arrangements. After all, employers may have very good reasons to prefer on-site work. But it’s also important to understand how strongly many workers feel about the ability to work remotely and take that into consideration when formulating remote work policies.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.