How to lure employees back to the office? You can't. Not now. Not ever.

Many owners and bosses still want employees back with their nose to the cubicle grindstone. Forget that noise!
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Months have gone by, and the great resignation keeps rolling along. Some people thought that people would come flocking back to the office once generous unemployment benefits ended. Nope. Wrong. Months after Republican states cut the $300-a-week Federal benefit and other benefits expired, there has been no rush to return to the workforce. There are many reasons for this. People don't want to catch COVID-19; people are sick of bad jobs; early retirement; and the one I care about today, bosses still think they can force skilled workers to return to offices.

I've said it before; I'll say it again. That's not going to happen. People with talent and high-value skills, like most technology workers, aren't returning to traditional offices.

You don't have to believe me, though. Look at the numbers being reported.

Hackajob survey of 2,000 UK tech workers and employers found not quite three-quarters (72%) of tech workers said having the ability to do remote work was very important to them. All, and by the way, just over one in five were looking for new jobs with remote work.

A more recent Microsoft survey found UK techies felt even stronger about the issue. In this survey, they found over half of the employees would consider quitting if you tried to force them back into the office.  

It's not just the UK. The Future Forum Pulse survey found IT workers in the US, UK, Australia, France, Germany, and Japan all had one thing in common: Most want to work at least part of the time remotely. To be precise, 75% want flexibility in where they work, while 93% want flexibility in when they work. Why? The top reason: "Better work-life balance."

The problem? Many executives and owners haven't gotten the clue yet. 44% said they wanted to work from the office daily. Employees? 17%. Three-quarters of bosses said they at least wanted to work from the office 3-5 days a week, versus 34% of employees. Can we say disconnect? I can.

And, here's the point. Today, for the first time in my lifetime, workers, not employers, are in the driver's seat.

One of the easiest things you can give your tech workers is the ability to work from home. Any doubts you may have about people not doing a good job unless you're looking over their shoulders should have vanished by now. After all, as some guy named Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of a little company named Facebook, recently said, "I've found that working remotely has given me more space for long-term thinking and helped me spend more time with my family, which has made me happier and more productive at work."

It's not just Zuckerberg. Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab, and MIT postdoctoral scholar Georgios Petropoulos, found in their analysis of the 5.4% increase in US labor productivity in the first quarter of 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), that some of this came from compressing "a decade's worth of digital innovation in areas like remote work into less than a year." Looking ahead, they see the biggest productivity impact coming from the continuation of the work-from-home trend.

Workers agree. The monthly academic WFH research.com survey has found almost six out of 10 workers reported being more productive working from home. On average, respondents' productivity at home was 7% higher than they expected. In short, working from home is here to stay. And, they calculate that these working arrangements will increase overall worker productivity in the US by 5% as compared with the pre-pandemic economy.

In other words, working from home works.

But, that doesn't mean that you must give up the traditional office entirely. You don't. In the Dice State of Remote Work report, there's a remote work spectrum. Sure, some workers never want to cross the office transom again, but others like a flexible work schedule where they can work outside of the office a set number of days per week or month.

By Dice's count, only one in five workers are bound and determined to never come into the office again. 75% would be fine with flex work. But, pay attention folks, only 3% want to go back to the old-school 9 to 5, every weekday at the office. I repeat a mere 3% want to return to the office as most of you knew it in the 2010s. Indeed, 7% of respondents said they would even take a 5% salary cut to work remotely.

Why do they feel so strongly? It's simple. It works better for them and for your company. 53% of technologists listed greater productivity as one of the main benefits of working from home. Another 59% said that feeling more relaxed while working was a major benefit. As for their personal benefits, 80% agree that money saved on commuting is the main perk. Like Zuckerberg, 47% find it gives them a better work/life balance. It's not that they're sitting back and watching Squid Game instead of working -- as many bosses feared -- as it is having the extra minutes to get the kids lunch ready, to take the dog out for a walk, or see the doctor while still being able to get their work done.

The work-from-home trend, Dice believes, is only going to grow stronger. I agree. I think anyone who's been paying attention to the transformation of the 21st-century office must agree. You can either go along with the flow, or you can fight it and first lose your staffers and then your company. I know which one I'd rather do.

Related stories:

Editorial standards