Requiring employees to return to the office? Get ready for them to quit

Employers considering bringing their employees back into the office might want to reconsider.

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A whopping 58% of workers say they would “absolutely” look for a new job if they weren’t allowed to continue working remotely in their current position, new data finds. According to FlexJobs, which surveyed more than 2,100 people who have been working remotely during the pandemic, 31% aren’t sure what they would do and only 11% say not being able to continue working remotely is not a big deal to them.

Related: Read more about remote and hybrid work here.

Overall, 65% of employees want to work remotely full-time post-pandemic, and another 33% prefer a hybrid work arrangement of remote and in-office work, according to the survey. Just 2% would prefer to return to the traditional office on a full-time basis. While workers are most concerned about COVID-19 exposure/infection (49%), having less work flexibility (46%) and less work-life balance (43%) are other key apprehension points in returning to traditional workplaces.

“Employers should absolutely evaluate their workforce post-pandemic with open eyes about what an effective business model could look like for them,” says Kathy Gardner, remote work expert at FlexJobs, a career site. “Over the last year, companies have experienced what remote work can do for their business strategy, their operations and their employees.”

Gardner says 100% remote work continues to be the most sought-after type of job flexibility for employees because of its far-reaching benefits. “Remote workers enjoy better work-life balance, reduced stress, improvements in personal relationships, as well as cost and time savings,” she says. “Remote and flexible work has tremendous benefits for employers when done well. Companies with flexible and remote work programs see increased retention and reduced turnover, improved productivity and efficiency, a larger and more diverse candidate pool, reduced operational and real estate costs and a reduced environmental impact.”

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To learn more about remote work, don’t miss HRE’s free, virtual Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, May 11-13. Register here.

The FlexJobs survey is the latest to suggest that employers should think twice about requiring employees to come back to the office, even when the pandemic ends. Previous research from Envoy, a startup workforce platform, found that 47% of workers said they would likely leave their job after the pandemic if their employers didn’t offer a hybrid work model.

“Companies that refuse to adapt to remote and hybrid workforces will absolutely lose out on talent,” Gardner says.

Although surveys have found that employees have wanted remote and flexible work options for years, COVID-19 has largely been viewed as the biggest remote work experiment ever. Experts say that because it’s working seamlessly for most employers–and employees like it–many more organizations will embrace the working model post-pandemic.

In the past, remote work was viewed by companies as a perk rather than a beneficial business strategy, but when the pandemic began, companies had no alternative, Gardner says.

“The choice was between closing the business at least temporarily or adopting remote work immediately,” she says. “What they discovered, for the most part, was that, even when tested under such extreme circumstances, remote work holds up as a viable option. This has led to countless company leaders rapidly changing their minds and embracing remote work as a more permanent solution moving forward.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.