As the workplace continues to evolve after the pandemic, so do people’s feelings about returning to the office. That’s why we sent a return to work survey to employees to understand their attitudes toward the workplace since the start of the pandemic. In the survey, we asked 1,000 employees in the US who have returned to the workplace how they feel about being back.
Here’s what we learned:
Employees have made it clear: they’ve missed being on-site. But to win their people back faster, employers must do more. They must focus on creating a safe, flexible hybrid workplace experience.
In this report, we’ll dive into the facts that tell how employees feel about returning to the workplace. We’ll take a look at how the demand for a hybrid work model has changed since the start of the pandemic. We’ll also dig deeper into the advantages people see in being on-site, broken down by different employee demographics. Finally, we’ll talk about what workplace teams can do to make the on-site experience more enticing for employees.
Envoy partnered with Wakefield Research to survey 1,000 full-time US workers over the age of 18 who have returned to the office. Survey responses were collected between August 6 and August 13, 2021, using an email invitation and an online survey. “Returned” is defined as those working from the office at least one full day per week and they must have returned to the physical office in the last 12 months. Here’s what we found out.
1. People want to be in the workplace more than before
71% of employees said they want a hybrid work model when they return to work. Folks want to spend some of the workweek on-site and the rest remote. Only 29% said they didn’t want a hybrid work model.
In surveys we conducted in September 2020 and February 2021, 48% of employees said they wanted hybrid work. But after a year of working remotely during the pandemic, employees are finding the workplace and in-person experiences more appealing. Word of mouth could also be responsible for driving up demand for hybrid work. As more people hear of companies adopting this working model, it could be leaving them wondering, “Hey, what about us?”
DEMAND FOR HYBRID WORK
56% of employees want to work on-site most of the week
The majority of employees (56%) who embrace hybrid work said they want to work on-site most of the week. 44% of employees who prefer hybrid said they’d want to work mostly remote. As for employees who don’t prefer a hybrid work model (29%), 12% said they want to work remotely full-time. 16% of these folks would prefer to be on-site full-time.
In a hybrid work environment, where different people are on-site each day, there’s a greater need for workplace schedules. Want help thinking through what schedule to pick for your company? Read this post.
Employees see more value in the workplace the longer they’ve been back
62% of employees who’ve been in the workplace for more than three months said they’d prefer to work on-site most of the time. In contrast, 54% of employees who have been back to the workplace between a week and three months said they’d prefer to work remotely most of the time.
It’s clear that getting back into the swing of working on-site is a process. Once they get over the initial hurdle of having a new routine, the majority of employees (62%) actually prefer to work mostly on-site. To encourage employees to see the value of working in an office, workplace teams should focus on building a people-centric workplace experience.
Help your employees adjust to the workplace by encouraging them to connect and build relationships with other folks on-site. For pointers, download our ebook, How to build a people-centric workplace experience.
It’s not just tech employees who want hybrid work
Hybrid work has broad appeal. Interestingly, employees in industries outside of tech want hybrid work the most. About three-quarters of employees in the business services industry (78%) said they prefer a hybrid work model. Slightly fewer employees in construction, manufacturing, automotive, and utilities (74%), said the same.
Tech employees may desire work setups that are more secure and sophisticated than what they have at home. They could also be attracted to the perks of the workplace that are common at tech companies. This could explain why 68% of folks in tech would prefer going into the workplace most of the week.
- 56% of employees want to work on-site most of the week; only 44% want to work mostly remote
- 62% of employees who’ve been in the workplace for three or more months want to work on-site most of the week
- 78% of employees in the business services industry want hybrid work; compared to 74% in construction, manufacturing, automotive, utilities and 68% in technology
The workplace has become more sought-after—and not just by office workers who want to be there full-time. The majority of employees (56%) who prefer hybrid work also prefer working on-site most of the week. It’s likely that number will grow as employees who have returned on-site adjust to their new work routines. The data shows that 62% of people who have been back for longer prefer to work mostly on-site. It also makes clear that employees in tech are not the only ones who want flexible work options. In fact, employees in business services and those in construction, manufacturing, automotive, and utilities are more likely to prefer a hybrid work model. (78% and 74% respectively—compared to 68% of employees in tech.)
2. People crave an even better workplace experience
Nearly every employee who has returned (95%) to work has experienced advantages from being in the workplace. This suggests that even while most employees crave the flexibility to work remotely some of the week, they still believe working on-site is essential.
As you’ll see, employees find many advantages to being on-site. But employers shouldn’t rest on their laurels; employees say there’s more their companies can do to make the workplace better.
46% of employees want to separate home life from work life
The vast majority of respondents said there’s an upside to going into the workplace. Here’s how employees responded when we asked, “Which of the following, if any, have been advantages of returning to the office?”
- 46% of respondents said separating work life from home life has been an advantage
- 44% of employees who said collaborating with co-workers in person has been an advantage
- 39% who said hanging out with work friends has been an advantage
These responses suggest that employees want to build connections with coworkers—not through a screen but in person. Employees also believe there are mental health and career benefits to working on-site, such as avoiding burnout.
Survey your employees to find out what they miss most about the workplace. (If they’ve already returned, ask them about the advantages of being back on-site.) Then, create employee personas. This will help your team ensure employees get what they want most out of the workplace.
Advantages vary by generation
Apart from separating work from home, Gen Z employees see the most benefit from face-time with managers (43%). Younger employees may be more willing to seek out career growth opportunities since they’re earlier in their careers.
Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers find it easier to collaborate with co-workers while on-site (45%). Gen Z and Millennials see more opportunities for learning and mentorship (37% and 34%, respectively) compared to Gen X (21%) and Boomers (14%).
Top advantages of the workplace, by generation
Employers could be doing more to improve the workplace experience
We asked employees what would make their workplace experience better. According to respondents, there are many areas where their employers can improve.
44% of respondents said they would like their companies to implement health checks or vaccine verifications for peace of mind. 32% of employees want a better system to coordinate schedules with co-workers. 29% want to enter the workplace using touchless technology. 25% want to have access to virtual whiteboards that make brainstorming sessions with remote co-workers more effective.
45% of employees said they didn’t feel they had a choice in their return to work
We also asked employees whether they had a choice to return to work. 45% of employees who’ve returned said they did not. Of these employees, over a third (35%) said they’re more likely to want to leave their job compared to those who did have a choice (18%).
Employers should be thoughtful about how they communicate their request for people to return to the workplace. Thoughtful messaging will go a long way to ensure employees feel in the loop and have enough time to plan their return. For tips, read this blog post.
- 46% of employees want to separate home life from work life
- 44% of respondents said they would like their companies to implement health checks or vaccine verifications
- 43% of Gen Z employees said face-time with managers is an advantage of the workplace; Other generations cite collaborating as a top advantage
Having to work remotely during the pandemic seems to have given employees new perspectives on what they value in the workplace. 95% of respondents said that the workplace has been advantageous since returning. Employees in all age groups said meeting with people in person was a top advantage. However, people also say the workplace experience could be better. 55% of employees want their companies to implement health checks or vaccine requirements. This shows us that while people want to work on-site, they expect employers to have systems in place to keep them safe and provide peace of mind. For companies still planning their return, they should focus on reopening safely and communicating their plans with employees. People want to feel informed about the decisions that will impact their day-to-day, and not blindsided by an abrupt return.
3. Health and safety continues to be top of mind for employees
Despite the US vaccine rollout, the majority of employees (87%) said they worry about staying safe while in the workplace. It’s clear that employers must recognize health and safety as an essential part of the workplace experience. What are organizations doing to make their people feel comfortable being on-site? Is it enough? These are questions every company must consider as they plan their return to work. The good news is, employers can take steps to make the on-site experience somewhere employees feel safe to do their best work.
Empower employees to collaborate at a safe distance and make the most of your real estate investments. For tips, download our ebook, Space management tips to help your people thrive in a hybrid workplace.
Folks who have returned still want COVID safety measures in place
The top concerns employees have about being back on-site are health and safety-related. 46% of employees worry about exposure to COVID-19 and its variants. 30% of employees said they’re worried about interacting with non-vaccinated employees. An equal number of respondents said costs of commuting to the workplace is a top concern.
Health and safety concerns are greater among certain employee demographics. For people of color, the concern around the Delta variant is significant: 21% lose sleep over it compared to just 11% of white employees.
There’s also some variation in concern by the size of the company. People at companies larger than 1,000 employees report the highest amount of concern over exposure and interacting with non-vaccinated co-workers. As for employees at smaller companies, the concern over exposure and interaction is significantly less—only 40% and 20% respectively.
In September 2021, the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced its plans to require that employers with more than 100 employees ensure their people are vaccinated. Once put in place, this requirement would impact the organizations of more than 70% of employees surveyed.
3 out of 5 employees feel their companies are doing enough to protect them
The majority of employees (59%) believe their employers have taken adequate measures to keep them safe.
When we broke the data down by different employee demographics, we found that younger generations are more skeptical. 62% of Gen Z believe their company could be implementing more safety precautions. This finding isn’t surprising. When we surveyed employees in February 2021, 75% of Gen Z reported being worried about their health and safety in the workplace. This concern could be tied to fear of getting sick at work and infecting at-risk family members.
The concern lessens by age group. 46% of Millennials believe their employers could do more. For Gen X and Boomers, concern drops significantly—39% and 26% respectively.
Help give employees peace of mind by conducting regular health checks before people come on-site. Read this blog post to learn more about how to implement health checks.
75% of employees are comfortable with workplace vaccine requirements
Of those who work for companies that require vaccinations (51% of respondents), 75% report being comfortable with the requirement. These findings align with our earlier survey. Back in February, as vaccines became more widely available, 62% of employees said they think their employers should require vaccinations to enter the workplace.
Gen Z and Boomers are less likely than average to be comfortable with their organization’s vaccine requirement—73% and 69% respectively. For Gen Z, who believe that their employers could be doing more to keep their employees safe, this is somewhat of a surprise.
- 46% of employees worry about exposure to COVID-19 and its variants
- 59% believe their employers have taken adequate measures to keep them safe
- 60% percent would prefer workplace vaccine requirements
While most employees want to work on-site more often than they do remotely, the evolving pandemic does concern them. Most employees (59%) believe their employers are doing enough to keep them safe. But some groups want to see their organizations do more. To keep employees enthusiastic about being on-site, employers should communicate what they’re doing to protect their people. They should also consider conducting regular health checks, ensure their employees have the space they need to work at a safe distance from others while on-site, and help employees coordinate their hybrid schedules.
Employees have spoken…
Our return to work survey shows that the workplace is what makes hybrid work. 71% of employees who completed the return to work survey want a hybrid work model. The vast majority also believe there are advantages to being back on-site. However, employees also think their companies could do more to improve the workplace experience. Conducting regular health checks and enabling people to coordinate schedules with co-workers are the top actions employees would like to see their companies take. While the majority of people believe their companies do enough to protect them during the pandemic, employees don’t want their employers to let up. Health and safety continue to be top of mind for employees, and 87% still worry about staying safe in the workplace. As more folks return to work, there’s one message that’s clear: employers must focus on creating a safe and enticing workplace experience. If they do, they’ll bring their people back faster.