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Return to office realities: 4 things employees say they're struggling with

Hybrid working blends the benefits of the office with the convenience of being able to work from home. But returning to the workplace is creating challenges for some.
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Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor on
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Image: Luis Alvarez

For many employees, the workplace looks very different today from how it did two years ago. Moving to remote working has transformed expectations of how and where work is done, and workers who were previously bound to an office desk have enjoyed greater flexibility by working from home (WFH) instead.

But while many employers have decided to make the switch to remote working permanent, others are encouraging employees to return to the office -- either permanently, or as part of a 'hybrid' policy. According to a survey of more than 1,100 employees by software company Glean, return-to-office plans are creating problems, setbacks and a general sense of unease among workers who have become accustomed to the freedom of remote working over the past two years.

1. Wellbeing

Remote working allowed employees to regain a sense of control over their jobs by removing the stresses of a daily commute and giving them more time to attend to their own physical and mental health. It is unsurprising, then, that nearly half (46%) of workers surveyed by Glean said they worried that returning to the office would have a detrimental impact on their mental and physical health.

SEE: Remote workers want new benefits. This is how employers are responding

Of course, remote working can also be isolating, which is why hybrid arrangements combining remote and office-based work are typically the most popular.

2. Socialization

Some workers have mourned the loss of workplace social events to remote working, although for others, it's been a secret source of celebration. Nearly six in 10 (58%) of workers surveyed by Glean said not having to socialize with their colleagues outside of work was a benefit of working remotely. As such, the return to the office for these employees also brings the potential return of awkward after-work social events.

SEE: Remote work vs office life: Lots of experiments and no easy answers

Younger employees are even more likely to prefer WFH for this reason, with 63% of respondents aged between 18-44 seeing not having to hang out with co-workers as a benefit of remote working.

3. Communication

While hybrid working provides a good balance for most workers, communication can break down when some employees decide to work from the office while others do not. Meetings, for example, often favour those who attend in person, and remote workers risk missing out on informal post-meeting debriefs and watercooler chats where work is discussed.

Glean found that 25% of workers who work in a hybrid environment spent more time chasing down colleagues for information now that employees have returned to the workplace compared to when all or most of the workforce was working remotely.

4. Collaboration

Much like communication, collaboration across the in-office/ remote barrier can also prove tricky for teams. Hybrid teams can create imbalances when some colleagues are in the office while others are remote, not just because information might not be equally shared, but also because employees in the office may have better tools and resources at their disposal.

SEE: Ditching the office for good: How to build a successful remote workplace

Glean's survey found that more than a third (37%) of Americans who work in hybrid environments experience issues collaborating effectively with colleagues, while 18% said workplace collaboration has actually become worse since employees returned to the workplace.

Other findings by Glean include:

  • 35% of US workers cite a lack of accountability among colleagues and team members as one of the biggest drawbacks of remote and hybrid working
  • 46% of parents working remotely have a hard time setting boundaries between their work and personal lives, compared to 31% of all employees

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