The pandemic flipped the “office-first” work model on its head, forcing companies around the country to adopt remote work. In September, we surveyed employees about returning to the workplace and learned that nearly half wanted a hybrid work arrangement. Five months later—with an end to the pandemic in sight—we surveyed another 1,000 people to see if sentiment around this model of work has changed.
Here’s what we learned:
We’re past the point of talking about returning to the workplace in abstract terms. The vaccine rollout is in progress and the time for change is now. Post-pandemic, employees want to have more say in where and how they work. The question is, will their companies deliver?
Employers are at a crossroads. Will they return to the workplace they knew before the pandemic or embrace the opportunity for change? One path goes forward. The other returns to the status quo. As executives weigh their options, the business case for hybrid work has grown too important to ignore.
For this report, we partnered with Wakefield Research to survey 1,000 full and part-time employees over the age of 18 in the United States. Survey responses were collected between February 8 and February 16, 2021, using an email invitation and an online survey. The data was weighted to ensure an accurate representation of full-time and part-time employees.
Employees have made it clear that Slack chats and Zoom happy hours don’t substitute for in-person interaction. Businesses should be intentional about making the office a dynamic component of company culture, providing ample opportunities for employees to foster creativity, build relationships, and collaborate.
Head of Workplace Technology, Envoy
1. The workplace is here to stay.
Many have wondered if companies will adopt a permanent remote work model after the pandemic. According to our findings, only 8% of employees want a fully remote workweek. Far more employees (48%) said they want the ability to work both in and out of the office. This tells us that while employees desire more flexibility, they still see the office as a critical part of their work experience.
It’s worth noting that when we surveyed employees last fall, the same amount of people (48%) said they wanted a flexible work arrangement. While case numbers and policies around the pandemic may change over time, the demand for hybrid work remains strong.
Companies need to nail the on-site experience. The workplace should serve as a hub for creating and building connections. Focus on providing employees the space and resources to work collaboratively in ways that aren’t possible in a remote work setup.
Projects and people determine when employees need to be on-site
If employees are given a choice to work from home or the office, the top factors that influence their decision include what they need to get done for work (39%) and who else plans to be at the workplace that day (37%). This tells us that some work is better suited for a collaborative environment. The most common benefits of hybrid work are time and money saved commuting, improved work-life balance, and improved work performance.
Top factors that influence when employees work on-site:
Top reasons employees want hybrid work:
61% of office workers want a hybrid work model
The majority of office workers (61%) would prefer to work on-site between 1-4 days a week post-pandemic. Only 5% said they want to work remotely full-time, and about a third said they want to go into the office every workday.
Hybrid work introduces uncertainty around who’ll be in the office and when. To establish structure while enabling flexibility, create workplace schedules. There’s more than one way to approach scheduling and you should choose the way that works best for your company.
It’s not just office workers who want more flexibility
The demand for hybrid work spans industries—including those that traditionally require working on-site. 61% of respondents in healthcare, medicine, and pharmaceuticals said they want the option to work remotely during some of the workweek. Another surprising finding is that 41% of respondents in construction, manufacturing, automotives, and utilities also said they want a flexible work model.
Industries with a high demand for hybrid work
Size is not a determinant
There’s little difference in demand between company sizes. People at companies with fewer than 250 employees favor a hybrid work setup, and nearly as many said they want to work on-site. The same is true for respondents at 250+ companies. In both groups, just under 10% of employees said they want to work remotely full-time.
Work model preference by company size
Gen X wants hybrid work even more than Gen Z and Millennials
Younger generations have a significantly higher preference for hybrid work. 52% of Gen Z respondents and 48% of Millennial respondents said they want a mix of on-site and remote work post-pandemic. Boomers are most likely to want a fully on-site setup (46%) and least likely to want hybrid work (38%). This suggests that this generation of workers values a consistent work environment one way or another. Interestingly, Gen X was just as likely to want hybrid work (53%) as Gen Zers.
Work model preference by generation
Now is the time to get ahead of the inevitable transition to hybrid work. Making investments now in the people, technology, and real estate that enable a flexible work environment will ensure you stay in front of workforce trends.
- 48% of employees—and 61% of office workers—want to work on-site part of the workweek.
- 52% of Gen Z and 48% of Millennials want a flexible work arrangement.
- Only 8% of respondents want to work remotely five days a week.
- 56% of employees expect personal benefits from hybrid work.
The demand for hybrid work across age, industry, and company size proves that people are ready to embrace a more flexible style of work. While the results show that half of employees want hybrid work, employers should survey their workforce to decide if investing in this work model is the right choice for them. To get the most out of the hybrid model, companies should design meaningful experiences for employees working remotely and on-site. The workplace should serve a unique purpose. Instead of being a place where people have to be, it should be one where they want to be—to connect, build relationships, and do great work.
2. Even with the vaccine rollout underway, health and safety remain top of mind for employees.
Opinions about returning to work are evolving. In September, 73% of people said they were concerned about their health and safety returning to the workplace. This time around, 66% said they’re worried and a significant number of these folks (20%) are “extremely worried.”
Now’s the time for employers to build trust with their people. Companies should share their return-to-work plan with employees and be clear about the work they’re doing to keep people safe. Regular communication is key to helping ease employees’ concerns about working on-site—concerns that can hamper their productivity and have a negative impact on their job satisfaction.
To understand the health and safety expectations of your employees, conduct regular surveys and make investments accordingly.
Responses vary between office and non-office workers
Office workers are more likely than non-office workers to be concerned about their employers relaxing COVID-19 measures too early. 76% of office workers said they are “somewhat concerned,” “very concerned,” or “extremely concerned.” In comparison, less than half (49%) of non-office workers expressed concern. Overall, 61% of all survey respondents report concern.
Concern about employers relaxing COVID-19 measures too early
Help employees feel more at ease at the workplace by monitoring occupancy and enforcing capacity limits. If you can, bring people back in phases starting with those who want to return.
The challenge is going to be how we get people back into the office. What are we going to do to encourage them to come in when we want to collaborate?
Facilities Director at Impossible Foods
75% of Gen Z is worried about health and safety
Despite being less vulnerable to COVID-19, younger employees are the most worried about returning to work. 75% Gen Z respondents said they’re worried about returning to the workplace. In the US, more young adults live with their families than at any time since the Great Depression. For Gen Z workers, their concern may be tied to getting sick at work and infecting at-risk family members.
Millennials and Gen X responded almost identically, with over 65% of people in each group reporting they are worried. Only 58% of Boomers are worried about their health and safety working on-site.
If you’re bringing employees back in phases, iterate your workplace safety strategy on this smaller group. Then, scale your best ideas to accommodate more employees down the line.
The majority say vaccines should be mandatory to enter the workplace
Most employees agree that employers should require people to get vaccinated to enter the workplace. In total, 62% of respondents believe vaccinations should be mandatory to work on-site. More than a third (36%) said they “strongly agree.”
People want to be certain they won’t get sick when they go into the workplace. However, the CDC says whether a company can require vaccinations is down to state and local law.
If you want to enforce a mandatory vaccination policy, consult your HR and legal teams to learn how to proceed. You can also require people to complete a health questionnaire before entering the workplace to ensure everyone on-site meets your entry criteria.
- 66% of people said they’re worried about returning on-site—down from 73% last fall.
- 75% of Gen Z is worried.
- 76% of office workers are concerned employers will relax COVID safety measures too early.
- 62% of people agree vaccinations should be mandatory to enter the workplace.
Workplaces across the country are reopening. Before employees return, they want to know that their employers are taking precautions to keep them safe. Fewer people are worried about returning to the workplace than in September. But concern is still high across some demographics, including office workers and Gen Z. Companies should get input from employees across their workforce when putting together their return-to-work strategy. To build trust, leaders should keep employees in the know as decisions are finalized.
3. Companies must adapt—or they risk losing half of their workforce.
We asked people, “After COVID-19, how likely would you be to look for another job if your employer didn’t offer a hybrid work model?” About half of respondents (47%) said they’re likely to look for a new job. That number increases notably for certain employee demographics, as you’ll see later on.
For many employees, hybrid work is a requirement, not a nice-to-have. Employees may prove this in several ways. Turnover will be the most obvious and have the biggest impact on the company. But employers shouldn’t overlook the risks to employee engagement, productivity, and overall satisfaction.
Younger generations are more likely to head to the job boards
60% of Gen Z and 59% of Millennials said they’d likely look for another job if their employer didn’t offer hybrid work. While Gen Z and Gen X have about the same desire for hybrid work, Gen Zers are more likely to search for a new role to access this work model. The group least likely to want hybrid work, Boomers, is also least likely to look for another job (only 20%).
Likeliness to look for another job by generation
Half of hybrid workers say there’s no going back
Of the respondents who are already in a hybrid work model, 52% said they are willing to look for a new job if their company stopped offering hybrid work. This suggests that these workers see long-term value in their current hybrid work setup.
Organize focus groups to understand what employees like about hybrid work. Be sure your long-term hybrid work strategy leans into these areas.
Nearly 7 out of 10 office workers would consider looking for another job
Two-thirds of office workers (67%) would likely look for another job if their employer didn’t allow hybrid work. An equal number of respondents from this group (24%) said they’d “definitely” or “very likely” look for new work.
It’s likely that employees who worked in an office before the pandemic had to transition to remote work at least part of the time. These workers have experienced the benefits of having a more flexible work environment, which is probably why so many of them are willing to leave their jobs to have this style of work post-pandemic.
Whether or not your employees work in an office, their needs and work habits have probably changed since the pandemic. Define employee personas to understand their new perspectives and problems.
2 out of 5 employees value flexibility enough to take a pay cut
The survey also revealed that 40% of employees are willing to take a pay cut for hybrid work. This number increases for younger generations: 43% of Gen Zers, 46% of Millennials, and 43% of Gen Xers would likely take a pay cut for more work flexibility. On the other hand, only 22% of Boomers would consider a pay cut.
- Overall, 47% of employees would likely look for a new job if their employer didn’t offer hybrid work.
- That number increases for other demographics: 60% of Gen Z, 59% of Millennials, and 67% of office workers.
- 40% of all respondents said they would take a lower salary in order to work flexibly.
What’s at stake for employers that don’t offer hybrid work? Nearly half of their workforce, according to respondents. Companies that don’t adapt now may scramble to adopt hybrid work in the years to come. By then, it may be too late to reverse the damage to employee turnover and morale. Employers should use this moment to think long-term and build a work model that attracts talent today and in the future. Employees will appreciate companies that diverge from the status quo—and many will walk away from those that don’t.
2021 likely will see the most drastic change to the work landscape since the advent of the open floor plan. People’s requirements for work and workplace safety have changed. 48% of people want a hybrid work environment post-pandemic. 66% say they are worried about their health and safety going into the physical workplace. And 47% will likely look for a new job if their employer doesn’t offer hybrid work.
The data is clear; companies must meet the needs of employees or risk losing talent to employers that do. Business leaders should consult their workforce to understand what their employees expect. From there, they can take action to address their workforce’s safety and flexibility needs. Most employees don’t want to return to the old normal—signaling to employers that adapting to the times may be a better, more viable way forward.