Employees overwhelmingly love the option to work from home. More than nine in 10 prefer it exclusively or as a hybrid arrangement, a Gallup study shows. Employers, on the other hand, don’t appear fully on board, as many are calling employees back into the office.
In some ways, employers’ resistance to remote work is a mystery. After all, eliminating commutes gives the average U.S. employee almost one hour of extra time each day, according to research from the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute. Plus, staff forced to work in-office are more likely to experience burnout and low engagement, per Gallup.
Nonetheless, many companies insist on having workers in office. Here are possible reasons why.
For a company preparing to downsize, forcing staff to come back to the office can potentially provide an effective strategy to avoid or reduce layoffs.
Companies that require in-person work report more problems with staff turnover, according to Criteria’s 2022 Hiring Benchmark Report. So rather than lay off staff, an employer can order a return to the office and let employees choose whether or not to leave.
In the last few years, a handful of high-profile companies have announced return-to-office orders in close proximity to layoffs. Some notable examples:
On April 28, Lyft CEO David Risher revealed that employees would have to work from the office at least three days a week. This came in conjunction with Lyft announcing a round of layoffs after already letting go of 13% of its workforce in November.
In February, Amazon called on employees to return to the office at least three days a week starting in May, just a month after announcing it would lay off more than 18,000 workers. An additional 9,000 layoffs were announced in March.
Elon Musk’s first memo to staff after acquiring Twitter (now X) included an order to return to offices full time, effective Nov. 10, according to multiple reports. Several rounds of layoffs ensued before the end of the year.
According to an analysis from Microsoft, working from home during the pandemic caused Microsoft employee groups to be less interconnected, less collaborative and more siloed.
While some forms of communication such as emails increased as a result of remote work, Microsoft’s analysis found it was more difficult for employees to convey complex information while working remotely.
Collaboration and connection can certainly pose a challenge for remote work in certain roles, such as coaching, counseling or teaching. But according to some high-profile CEOs, it’s crucial for most or all workers. Some examples:
In a memo on return-to-office plans, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said: “Collaborating and inventing is easier and more effective when we’re in person.”
While speaking about remote work at a 2021 conference, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said: “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us.” He added: “It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible.”
According to Disney CEO Bob Iger, connection in the workplace is key. “In a creative business like ours,” he wrote in a memo obtained by CNBC, “nothing can replace the ability to connect, observe and create with peers that comes from being physically together, nor the opportunity to grow professionally by learning from leaders and mentors.”
A 2022 study from Microsoft found that employee productivity increased across several measures, and yet 85% of leaders said they had difficulty believing employees were being productive during hybrid work. Traditional visual cues of productivity have become limited.
According to ExpressVPN, uncertainty and unease about what employees are doing is the primary reason employers are interested in surveillance. In a January 2021 study, 57% of bosses said they don’t trust their employees to work without in-person supervision.