“I think that ship has sailed.”
That’s what JD Chesloff, CEO of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, said in response to a question from the Boston Globe recently about why companies, even those like Google, Meta, and Amazon, who have made headlines with stringent return-to-the-office policies, are not asking employees to come in five days a week.
He’s right: it has sailed. The hybrid work schedules that so many companies have adopted, not out of choice, but more because they don’t really have a choice, are now the new norm and, from all accounts, will be the norm for at least the foreseeable future.
Indeed, it appears to be time to stop asking when everyone is going to return to the office and realize that not everyone is going to return to the office. And for many reasons.
Most of them have to do with the current labor market and the fact companies remain far too desperate in their efforts to attract and retain talent to make demands on where people can work. In some cases, employees are simply more productive working at home. And in still other cases, companies have been able to dramatically reduce their square footage (and, therefore, their annual costs) by having some or most of their employees working remotely.
Add it all up, and what we’re seeing in the workplace now is what we’re going to be seeing, unless some of those factors above change dramatically in the near term, and we just don’t see that happening. In short, employees who have been given a taste of remote work, like what they’ve tasted, will not want to go back to the office five days a week. And if employers try to force them to, they’ll find a new employer that won’t. Meanwhile, business owners will continue to be reasonable and cost-conscious, traits that, at this moment, don’t lend themselves to forcing people back to the office.
So instead of asking when workers will return the office, employers, managers, property owners, and leasing agents alike need to adjust.
Employers and managers need to find new and creative new ways to build teamwork and employee engagement, such as by requiring all employees to be in certain days of the week and then maximizing that time together.
As for property owners, the adjustment is more difficult. They may have to find other uses for their square footage other than office, a real challenge at a time when retail is also in retreat and conversion to residential is expensive and, in some cases, not realistic.
But adjustment, on the part of all those concerned, is necessary, because Chesloff is right.
That ship has sailed.