2023 Remote Work Trends and Employer Best Practices
We are in a time of transition when it comes to how we work, and there is no clear answer regarding flexible work arrangements. However, employers who do not offer remote work in some manner could lose out on great talent. This blog explores top remote work trends and tips for establishing guidelines that balance the desires of employers with those of employees.
Top Remote Work Trends to Watch
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 27% of the U.S. workforce works remotely at least part-time, up from 6% in 2019. The true number, including the self-employed and those who do not regularly work online, could be closer to 50%. This is substantiated by office vacancies, which reached a 30-year high (17.8%) in the first quarter of 2023. Real estate services firm CBRE cites fear of a recession and increased demand for hybrid work as the primary drivers in this vacancy trend.
At the same time, the U.S. unemployment rate remains historically low at 3.6%. Given an aging population, a labor shortage likely will continue as baby boomers retire and not enough millennials and Gen Xers fill their ranks. In this environment, workers have some leverage in determining where and how they will work. Yet top corporate brass isn’t convinced, and organizations are struggling to develop and communicate remote work policies.
2023 is the year of the back-to-office mandate
While some organizations have embraced remote or hybrid work situations, others, such as Amazon, Apple, Chipotle, Citigroup, Disney, Goldman Sachs, Google, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, Meta, Salesforce, Starbucks, Tesla, and Uber have implemented return-to-office mandates.
Underpinning these directives, C-level executives cite reduced productivity, innovation, and collaboration; a lack of supervision and training; and empty, expensive office space. Research backs up some of their concerns:
- A Stanford experiment shows in-person teams generated 15% to 20% more ideas than their virtual counterparts.
- Labor productivity, while increasing for the first time in six quarters in Q2 2023, is still lackluster, growing at a 1.4% rate since 2019, which is below the long-term historical average rate of 2.1%.
- Many executives believe that career development – especially for younger employees – is done best in person. New research backs this, showing that in-office workers spent 25% more time in career development opportunities than those working remotely.
Finally, CEOs from corporate giants including Amazon, Facebook, and Goldman Sachs maintain that building a strong corporate culture and trust among employees can be done better in person.
Most workers want flexibility as to where they work
Despite all of this, employees overwhelmingly desire flexibility in where they work. A recent Deloitte survey of 700 financial executives showed that 66% who worked remotely part-time would quit if they were ordered to return to the office five days a week. Of those polled, caregivers with remote or hybrid arrangements were 1.3 times more likely to leave their jobs if that flexibility was taken away.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, the biggest perceived upside to working from home is the balance it provides: 71% of those who work from home all, most, or some of the time say it helps them balance their work and personal lives. Remote work helps people care for children and elders and saves money on commutes, food, and work attire.
A majority of those who are working from home at least some of the time (56%) say this arrangement helps them get their work done and meet deadlines. Contrary to employer perception, more than half of workers say working from home has no impact on their career development (63%); whether they’re given important assignments (77%); or mentorship opportunities (54%).
Forced back-to-office mandates impact talent recruiting and retention
According to Gallup, approximately 20% of the 70+ million U.S. workers who can do their jobs remotely are working entirely on-site or plan to do so in the future. This is down from 60% in 2019. Strikingly, only 6% of workers want to be in the office full-time.
Research from workplace strategy and construction firm Unispace indicates that enforced days in the office are negatively impacting talent attraction and retention. Almost half (42%) of firms who mandated returns have experienced higher than normal employee attrition, while 29% are struggling to recruit.
Employer Best Practices: Balance flexibility with business demands
While organizations struggle with remote work policies, virtual employees debate what to do if they are required to return onsite. A balance can be achieved and maintained through policies that focus on attracting and retaining talent, creating a sound company culture, and driving business success. Below are four best practices for developing and communicating remote work policies.
1. Build trust and via thoughtful communication from leadership
Business leaders need to explain the “Why?” behind a return to the office requirement. Threats of slower career advancement and lower bonuses or raises might work in the short term, but they will lead to disengaged employees who will jump ship as soon as possible. Instead, bring employees along with you by disclosing the real reasons you want them back in the office. For example, many leaders are concerned about a possible economic downturn and believe bringing people back to the office will improve business results.
2. Establish clear work-from-home policies
Create well-defined policies around remote work. Mercer surveyed 749 organizations and found that 48% rely on informal and ambiguous guidelines to manage flexible work, 17% are completely hands-off, and a mere 34% rely on clear and transparent formal rules. This lack of guidelines and expectations can seriously impact attracting and retaining talent, as well as workplace morale.
Once you have policies and guidelines in place, be sure to provide managers with ongoing training, tools, and benchmarks for managing remote and hybrid workers. For example, some organizations ensure that team members are in the office on the same days so they can collaborate on projects and strengthen their connections.
3. Address gender and racial disparities
In a recent Harris Poll, more than half of women said they enjoy working remotely and want to continue doing so, compared with 41% of men. SHRM’s survey of U.S. workers whose employers shifted to remote work during the pandemic shows that 84% of male workers described their return as positive, compared to only 62% of female workers. Given that women spend almost twice the time men do on primary childcare, these discrepancies are not surprising.
When it comes to advancing their careers, 52% of Black workers and 50% of women say working from home is better than working in the office, compared with 42% of non-minority men. Black workers (63%) and women (58%) feel more ambitious when working from home versus the office. Just 46% of men feel the same way.
Applying a DEI lens to your remote work policy will help ensure you can strengthen your organization’s ability to recruit, retain, and promote minorities and women.
4. The hybrid work model: finding the right balance
According to Pew Research Center, 63% of hybrid workers who are not self-employed must work on-site a certain number of days weekly or monthly. More than half (59%) of hybrid workers work from home three or more days in a typical week, while 41% do so two days or fewer.
Many hybrid workers would prefer to spend more time working remotely than they currently do. If given a choice, 34% of those who are currently working remotely most of the time say they’d like to work from home full-time. Among those who are working from home some of the time, half say they’d like to do so all (18%) or most (32%) of the time.
However, LinkedIn data from July 2023 reveals an employer preference for hybrid work over fully remote jobs. The share of hybrid is now at 13% and remote at 9%, the latter down from 18% the previous year.
Enter the compromise. Employers prefer employees to be on-site more days, while employees would rather work more days remotely. Striking the right balance, and communicating it clearly to all employees, are crucial to the success of the modern workplace.
If you’d like to explore how to develop your hybrid/remote work policy, please reach out to us at the form below.