The return to the workplace has dominated news headlines over the past year. When will organizations require people to go back? Will they require them to go back? And if they do, what working models will companies adopt? These are just some of the questions people have had about the future of work.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve surveyed employees to learn how their opinions on returning to the workplace have evolved. Now, it’s time to learn where employers stand. To find out, we surveyed 250 enterprise executives in the US on their return-to-office plans and feelings about hybrid work.
In this report, we’ll dig deeper into each of these findings. We’ll look at how the data breaks down by different employer segments. We’ll also explore discrepancies between employer and employee sentiment on returning.
The question around which working model companies plan to adopt has been answered. Enterprises are ready to chart a new path forward with hybrid work. Now, they must ask what they need to do to set their organizations and people up for success. The survey results in this report offer crucial guidance.
For this report, Envoy partnered with Wakefield Research to survey 250 executives in the United States at companies with 1,500 or more employees. Survey responses were collected between August 16 and August 22, 2021, using an email invitation and an online survey.
01 Enterprises embrace hybrid work
Whether companies will make a permanent shift to remote work continues to be a hot media topic. Our findings show that the answer is a resounding “no.” None of the executives surveyed have plans to adopt a fully remote work model post-pandemic.
In fact, 72% of employers plan to adopt a working model that requires employees to be on-site for most of the week. The data is clear; employers believe being in the workplace is important. At the same time, they see value in allowing employees to work remotely some of the time.
Enterprises should prepare for hybrid work now. What does your team need to do to get the workplace ready for employees? Focus on providing a safe and welcoming space so your people can return with confidence.
79% of employers plan to adopt a hybrid work model
Looking ahead, four out of five employers (79%) said their organizations plan to adopt a hybrid work model. The remaining employers (21%) intend to bring employees back to the workplace full-time after the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, working on-site five days a week was the norm. The data shows that more established enterprises may be more prone to return to the status quo. 74% of organizations that have been around for 30 years or more plan to adopt hybrid work. That number increases to 87% for enterprises that have been around for less than 30 years. According to respondents, younger companies are more likely to adopt a hybrid model.
Most employers want hybrid work. None want a fully remote model.
Employers and employees are on the same page when it comes to wanting hybrid work
When deciding on a post-pandemic working model, it seems employers have looked to their employees for direction. When we surveyed employees in August 2021, a majority (71%) said they’d prefer a hybrid work model. Only 12% of employees would prefer to work remotely every day. This tells us that employers and employees are aligned on the value of working both remotely and on-site.
Employer vs. employee preference for hybrid work
Employers want the majority of their people back in the physical workplace by February 2022
When do enterprises want their people back on-site? Employers have differing opinions, but many expect big turnouts to the workplace by February 2022. We asked employers, “What percentage of your workforce do you want back in the physical workplace in the next six months?” 69% of respondents said they want the majority of their people (50% or more) back. About a third of respondents said they want 50% or fewer employees back on-site.
The US Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots beginning in the fall of 2021. Booster shots will likely be an important factor in employers’ decision to bring their people back to the workplace in the next six months. Once employees get their shots, we could see a bump in the number of employees who return.
Employees have gotten into new working rhythms while they’ve been remote. To help them transition back to the workplace smoothly, create a change management plan.
57% of executives worry their employees will hit the job boards if their organization doesn’t offer hybrid work
Fear of a mass exodus is a key factor driving employers’ decisions to adopt hybrid work. More than half of employers (57%) worry their people will look for new opportunities if their organizations don’t provide more flexibility.
58% of employers believe hybrid work is here to stay
The majority of employers (58%) said hybrid work will outlast the pandemic. That number jumps to 69% for executives located in the west, but it drops to 49% for those located in the south. The midwest and northeast responded similarly (57% and 58% respectively). It’s also worth noting that company size is not a determinant. Employers at enterprises smaller and greater than 3,000 employees both believe hybrid work is here to stay.
How long executives believe hybrid work will last, by region
Now is the time to align with executives on your enterprise-wide plan for hybrid work. Your team should have a comprehensive workplace strategy in place for all of your locations that keeps regional requirements in mind.
- 79% of employers plan to adopt a hybrid work model
- 62% want their workforce back in the physical workplace by February 2022
- 57% worry their employees will look for new work if their organization doesn’t offer a hybrid arrangement
- 58% believe hybrid work is here to stay past the pandemic
The survey results show that the future of work for enterprises is hybrid. The majority of employers said they plan to adopt a hybrid work model post-pandemic. The physical workplace will continue to play an important role for enterprises. In fact, not a single respondent said their organization plans to adopt a fully remote model. Overall, employers and employees are on the same page when it comes to what work should look like post-pandemic. But employers underestimate how much of their workforce would quit if employees don’t have flexibility.
02 The pandemic has brought new challenges—and new opportunities—to enterprises
We asked executives about the organizational challenges that have become more difficult since the start of the pandemic. The challenges they cited covered many different areas of the business—highlighting how much impact the pandemic has had on enterprise organizations.
Work policies, technologies, and locations have changed. In some cases, business strategies have changed. This has been challenging for organizations to navigate. But these changes have also shed light on new opportunities. The data shows that just about every executive surveyed said their company plans to invest in technologies that support hybrid work.
75% of executives said security has become a bigger challenge
The majority of executives (75%) said security (physical and cyber) has become more difficult to manage since the start of the pandemic. Organizations are having to upgrade from the patchwork security methods they’ve relied on while remote to longer-term solutions that support hybrid work. This is especially difficult for enterprises with many locations, devices, and employees to secure.
Adopting a new working model requires a revamp in your organization’s security infrastructure. To keep your people and company safe, make sure you implement these cyber and physical security best practices.
Work-life balance, productivity, and other challenges are also harder to manage
People and systems are harder to manage when employees are spread across different locations—and the pandemic has only made matters worse. Besides security, about half of executives said managing work-life balance (50%), productivity (50%), and health (49%) has become more difficult.
Other work challenges didn’t trail too far behind. A significant number of respondents said retention and recruiting (43%), compliance regulations (40%), and consistency across global locations (39%) have also grown more difficult.
Larger enterprises have struggled more
When we looked at responses by company size, we found some challenges have been harder to manage at enterprises larger than 3,000 employees. This includes physical security, retention and recruiting, compliance, employee health, and consistency across global locations. It’s possible that organizations with more employees also have more physical locations—making security and consistency across these locations harder to manage.
Challenges by company size
A consistent tech stack will help you make enterprise-wide technology changes so you don’t have to create custom solutions for individual locations. Get tips on how to do this in our ebook, An executive framework for scaling hybrid work security.
7 out of 10 executives plan to increase the size of their office space or keep it the same
Overall, the majority of executives (69%) said they plan to increase or maintain the size of their physical workplace over the next year. Only 31% plan to downsize. This suggests that even with fewer people on-site on any given day, organizations value the workplace enough to continue to invest in it.
Once enterprises bring people back on-site, they’re more likely to keep their space the same. This is the case for 62% of organizations that already have employees working on-site. The remaining 38% plan to increase or decrease the size of their physical workplace (12% and 26% respectively.
Creating a more space-efficient workplace will help your organization make the most of its real estate investments. For tips on how to flex your space, check out this guide.
Nearly all executives surveyed plan to invest in technologies that support hybrid work
When we asked employers which workplace technology solutions they plan to invest in, 49% said health and safety technology is top of mind. That’s followed by conference room booking software (41%) and technology that will enable employees to book a workspace nearby their co-workers (41%).
In a separate survey, we asked employees which technologies would make their lives easier in the workplace. 44% said health and safety technologies, suggesting alignment between organizations and their people. The other top technologies include a tool to help employees coordinate workplace schedules (32%) and contactless entry to the workplace via their mobile devices (29%).
Now’s the time to invest in the technologies that support hybrid work. To get started, partner with your IT team to ensure your people have the tools they need to thrive in a flexible work environment.
- 75% of executives said security has been more difficult for their organizations to manage since the start of the pandemic
- 69% will maintain or increase the size of their physical workplace in the next year
- 99% plan to invest in technologies that support hybrid work; but employers and employees aren’t fully aligned on which tools to adopt
The pandemic has been tough on enterprise organizations. But it’s also presented an opportunity for executives to rethink the workplace. Headed into the new normal, most executives plan to increase or maintain their office space. They also plan to bring on new technologies to help support hybrid work. However, executives and employees don’t completely align on which tools are most important to invest in. Organizations should understand what their employees need to ensure they’re making the best investments.
Maintaining culture and productivity are key drivers to adopting hybrid work
We asked employers what factors would influence their organization’s decision to allow employees to work remotely at least some of the time. Nearly half of respondents said maintaining company culture (49%) and employee productivity (48%) were important. While no one factor stands out that employers agree on, we did find some disagreement in certain demographics. Let’s look at the data.
Factors that would influence employers to allow some amount of remote work
Company culture and consistency across global locations is more important to female executives
There was some discrepancy between male and female executives on whether maintaining company culture would influence their organization’s decision. 56% of female respondents said company culture is a factor, compared to only 46% of male respondents.
Likewise, more than half of female executives (53%) said that adopting a consistent working model would influence their organization’s decisions. Only 40% of male executives said the same. As for employee retention, 47% of male executives said it’s a factor, compared to 39% of women.
Factors that would influence an organization’s decision to allow employees to work remotely some of the time,
male vs. female executives
Most executives agree that culture can thrive even if employees take some remote days
While maintaining company culture is an important factor in deciding whether to adopt hybrid work, 69% of employers said company culture can thrive even if employees work remotely some of the week. However, fewer than half of executives in the C-suite (41%) share this belief.
We also looked at employer sentiment according to the working model they plan to adopt. 83% of employers whose organizations plan to adopt a mostly remote model agree that they can maintain company culture even if employees aren’t on-site five days a week.
A people-centric workplace creates a better experience for employees on days when they’re on-site and when they’re remote. Learn how to build a workplace centered around your employees so your company culture can thrive.
Employers and employees agree on some—but not all—workplace advantages
We asked employers about the advantages of working on-site. 46% of respondents said it separates home life from work life. An equal number of employers cited employees having face-time with their managers.
Overall, employers and employees agree that there are advantages to working on-site. But there are significant disparities between the two groups. For example, 44% of employers believe working on-site improves mental health, whereas only 28% of employees agree. There was also a notable difference in sentiment regarding the career opportunities from working on-site. 43% of employers said employees benefit from learning and mentorship while working on-site. Only 26% of employees agree
Don’t leave a great workplace experience to chance. Survey your employees on a regular basis to ensure your team is leaning into the areas that matter most to them.
- 49% of employers said maintaining company culture is a factor that would influence whether or not they allow work flexibility; 48% said employee productivity
- 69% of employers believe people don’t have to be in the workplace five days a week for culture to thrive
- Employers and employees agree: an advantage of going back to the workplace is work-life separation
Employers want to avoid a mass exodus of their workforce. Adopting hybrid work is one way of encouraging employees to stay. But this change requires a big investment and employers want assurance that hybrid will pay off. Specifically, they want to be sure company culture and employee productivity don’t take a nosedive. Setting clear expectations on the purpose of the workplace is a start. But employers should also provide the tools and technologies their people need to make hybrid work.
Enterprises have entered a new era of work and it has hybrid written all over it. 72% of executives said their organizations plan to adopt a hybrid work model. 99% plan to invest in technologies that support hybrid work. And 69% said they want the majority of their people back on-site in the next six months.
Employers still have work to do when it comes to aligning their hybrid strategies with the needs of their people. But one thing executives and employers do agree on is that working on-site some of the week has its advantages. For both employers and their people, leaning into these advantages will be key to making hybrid work.