Even as the world continues to grapple with COVID-19 surges and lagging vaccine uptake, most companies remain in the planning stages of office re-openings.

Over the 18-plus months of the pandemic, corporate plans to swing wide their office doors have have been repeatedly stymied, with most organizations pushing back planned reopening dates — many until next year. Despite the fits and starts, most companies are slowly realizing a hybrid work environment — some employees in the office, others at home — will become a permanent reality.

But some companies refuse to budge, insisting on a return to the pre-COVID-19 workplace. For example, the publishing division of Hearst — which runs newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle, and magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping — is mandating a return to office. In response, workers last week filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

While some corporate leaders appear loath to evolve their work model for fear it will put business at risk,  new data shows returning to old ways is riskier than reinventing office culture, according to research firm Gartner.

With an abundance of job openings and a shortage of labor, most organizations simply aren’t in the position to make such demands, according to researchers who say workers are now focused more than ever on improving their work-life balance.

Only about 15% of employees want to work full-time in an office environment, according to Gartner. If an organization were to go back to a fully on-site arrangement, it would risk losing up to 39% of its workforce, according to a 2021 Gartner Hybrid Workplace survey published in September.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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