Most employees say they’re now in office full time — and they aren’t happy about it

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Dive Brief:

Two-thirds of employees are now in office full time, according to an Owl Labs survey of 2,000 workers conducted in June — a significant jump from 41% responding the same in 2022. Only 22% of surveyed respondents said it was their preferred working arrangement, however.
Workers are still finding ways to skirt the in-office requirement, Owl Labs data shows; 58% are “coffee badging,” or going to the office for only a few hours to show their face.
The majority of employees who continue to have remote or hybrid arrangements indicated they’d be resistant to a full-time, return-to-office policy change. Thirty-one percent said they would go but begin looking for other jobs, 22% said they’d go but be unhappy and 6% said they’d quit.

Dive Insight:
While employers have wrested back some power in the return-to-office power struggle, the Owl Labs data suggests workers are not adjusting in turn. 
Tensions may only rise, as 90% of companies responding to a Resume Builder survey from August said they planned to institute return-to-office policies by the end of 2024. While employees have said they’d plan to look for another job or would quit outright if forced back to the office, there could soon be a glut of job seekers in search of an ever-shrinking supply of remote jobs. 
On the flip side, employers who commit to offering remote or voluntary hybrid arrangements could stand out from the crowd and attract top talent. Workers have repeatedly emphasized their preference for flexibility over the past few years; two-thirds of respondents to Owl Labs’ survey who sought another job said they did so to gain more flexibility in terms of where or when they worked. Similarly, respondents said the top reasons they would not accept a job offer were if the company required them to work in the office at specific times or days, or didn’t allow flexible work hours.
Employers that feel strongly about an in-office requirement do have some levers they can pull to ease the burden. Owl Labs survey respondents said company payment for commuting costs (38%), greater privacy at the office (34%) and day care/elder care subsidies or on-site alternatives (28%) would all help draw them to the office.
Employees also said having a way to know when others would be there (33%) mattered to them, highlighting a point experts have made again and again: Employers should be drawing employees back to the office for a reason — not just because the office exists or it’s what others are doing. Seventy percent of managers and nearly half of hybrid workers responding to Owl Labs said they felt they were missing out on informal feedback and development opportunities, for example, suggesting the office could best be used for social connections, collaboration and training — with private work areas also provided as needed.

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