Employees have become accustomed to working from home as a result of the pandemic and the rise of remote working. But a growing number of companies are now opting to get people working onsite again on a regular basis.
This is a global phenomenon, although there are regional disparities. Known as RTO or “return to office”, this trend was initiated by major American tech companies such as Google, Meta, Amazon – and even Zoom.
The San José-based company announced last month that it was requiring its employees to return to work onsite at least two days a week, even though the video-conferencing service is known for contributing to the advent of widespread remote working.
This forced return to “normal” goes beyond the high-tech sector. Companies in many fields are now asking their employees to come into the office more often.
This reflects a growing scepticism about working from home: while widely applauded by employees for the flexibility it affords, it is much less so by managers and company directors, who are increasingly cautious about the real benefits of working from home.
For good reason: a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California found that full-time remote work led to an 18% reduction in productivity among employees.
Bringing your work home is not without its challenges, it seems, considering the potential sources of distraction in our domestic lives. As a result, some firms are wondering whether they should simply put an end to full-time remote working.
But this U-turn isn’t going down well with workers, especially those in countries where WFH culture is widespread. This is the case in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
Canadian employees benefit, on average, from 1.7 days of home working per week, according to research from the ifo Institute and EconPol Europe, based on a sample of 42,400 respondents in 34 industrialised countries.
Their British and American counterparts work from home almost a day and a half a week, compared with 1.3 and 1 for those in Australia and New Zealand, respectively.
Against this backdrop, it is only to be expected that workers in these countries might refuse to give up their WFH privileges, even if it means looking for a new job.
Case in point: 64% of British employees say they’d rather quit than go back to the office every day, according to a survey of 2,000 workers conducted by British Business Expert and reported by the website Startups. This has led to companies like Disney and Amazon imposing compulsory days of onsite presence.
Others are taking a gentler approach, encouraging employees to return to the office with bonuses and benefits. Perkbox, for example, offers rewards in the form of points to employees who come into the office: they can use them to buy lunch or even subscribe to Netflix, reports the BBC.
Meanwhile, software company Salesforce pledged to donate US$10 (RM47) to charity each time an employee came to work onsite during a two-week period in June. Elsewhere, JM Smucker created a system of designated core weeks during which employees are required to be onsite, according to the “Wall Street Journal”.
Such approaches are much less common in countries where working from home is less widespread, such as Japan and South Korea. With only 0.5 and 0.4 days of remote work per week, these two nations fall below the global average established by the ifo Institute and EconPol Europe (0.9 days).
In short, many companies are imposing days of in-person presence on their employees. But these back-to-office orders don’t go down well at a time when workers are placing growing importance on establishing a better work-life balance – no matter where they are in the world.