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Why 94% of employees want to return to offices

The great work-from-home experiment of 2020 has made it clear that people can work effectively while they’re remote. Although most people enjoy the flexibility that working from home affords, just as many said that they missed their offices and the work-life separation they had before the pandemic. They may not be ready to jump 100% back into the office now, but they want to go back if they haven’t returned already.

Envoy partnered with Wakefield Research to ask 1,000 people in various work situations how they felt about returning to work. The results showed that 94 percent of people want to work in the office at least once a week once restrictions lift. Plus, 46 percent of  people said the ideal number of days in the office was a full five days per week!

Pie chart showing how many days a week people want to work in the office

So do employees want to return to the office? Who is it that wants to come back, and what’s motivating their return? And what do workplace and HR leaders need to do now to prepare? Keep reading for the answers to these questions. Also, read the full report for insight into who’s most concerned about returning to the office and what’s behind their concerns.

Who most wants to work from the office?

Across all demographics, people want to work from their office or job site an average of 3.7 days each workweek. This number varies based on one’s age, gender, the type of work they do, and where they currently work. 

Boomers want to return more than millennials

The people who want to work in the office the most number of days are also the oldest. People in the baby boomer generation want to work in the office  3.9 days. On the other end of the age spectrum, millennials would prefer to work from the office only 3.6 days each week. Although the difference is slight, younger generations want more flexibility than their parents.

Men anticipate a return more than women

Men and women feel similarly about how frequently they want to go to their workplaces. That said, men beat out women by a hair: men say their ideal is to spend four days on-site each week, with women saying their ideal is 3.8. This may be because women bear a disproportionate share of the burden of taking care of children and other domestic labor.

Construction, hospitality, and retail workers want to get back on-site

The type of work one does also impacts how they feel about working on-site versus at home. Many people do manual work that requires they be at a physical workplace. For someone whose presence is required, not coming to work might mean forgoing a paycheck. That said, people who work in construction, retail, and hospitality would appreciate a more flexible workweek. These groups both reported their ideal is to spend four days in their workplaces. People who work in tech and business services, whose work may allow for them to work from home, would prefer 3.5 days on-site.

People who have not returned want more flexibility

The desire to return is most stark between people currently working from home and people who never worked from home. People who continue to work from home full-time want to work from the office an average of 3.4 days when they return. Compare this to the people who never worked from home who say they want to work 4.5 days in the office.

Demographic differences aside, workplaces will need to consider supporting a hybrid work model. Hybrid work models, when done right, support work-life balance and productivity. Teams can collaborate and find inspiration in the workplace, or focus on individual work at home. Companies that adopt a hybrid model will also be more appealing to job candidates who want choices when it comes to where they work.

Why do employees want to return to the office?

Regardless of the subtle differences between demographics, we know that almost everyone wants to have some time in the office. So what is it about the office with people wanting to put on real pants and brave the commute?

It’s important to mention that many people have no choice but to head to work each day. Operating machinery, serving patrons, and performing surgeries can’t be done at home (at least not yet). That said, of people who spent some time working remotely, ninety percent said they missed something about their workplace.

Video conferencing just isn’t the same

The number one thing people miss about their workplaces is spending time face to face with co-workers. Almost two-thirds of respondents long for the social interactions that come standard in the workplace. Before the pandemic, teams built relationships and motivated each other through face-to-face meetings. Video conferencing tools like Zoom and more frequent meetings help fill this gap. However, we haven’t found a substitute for casual encounters in the hallway or by the coffee maker. 

More snacks, fewer dishes, please

Speaking of coffee, people also miss the days when eating lunch and grabbing a snack didn’t mean preparing them yourself at home. One-quarter of people said they miss going out to lunch, and twenty percent yearn for the free coffee and snacks in the office. Having food at the ready or not having to wash dishes when you’re finished means more time to focus on work (or catch up with work friends).

Give me something to do

Special occasions and workplace events also hold a special place in employees’ hearts. Thirty-seven percent of people look forward to the day when workplace happy hours and holiday parties return. When every day starts to look and feel the same at home, we value the novelty of getting a few people together to celebrate, learn, or just unwind.

Too much family time

Over a fifth of respondents appreciated having the time away from their families. For people with partners, children, or other dependents at home, it’s easy to get distracted. Plus, with kids learning at home instead of in the classroom, parents find they need to spend more time helping them with school work. 

Before the pandemic, workplaces fulfilled many people’s needs to socialize and connect with others. Video conferences help, but, as the survey shows, nothing can replace connecting face to face. As you determine the role of your workplace moving ahead, it’s important to keep this need for socialization in mind. Our workplaces will need to shift from the only place work gets done to a place where people build relationships and work together.

There’s lots more data where that came from. Read the full report to get insight into how people feel about returning to work and how your workplace needs to evolve to support them.