As vaccination rates rise and Covid-19 cases fall in the U.S., more employers are calling workers back to the office. There’s just one problem: many don’t want to return. There are clearly other areas like Canada, Italy and France that are still firmly within the grip of the pandemic. But eventually, the same reductions in infection rates that are being seen in the UK and the US will spread to other parts of the world.
A survey by management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found only 37% of workers prefer a full-time return to on-site work at the office. That represents a steep drop from the pre-Covid-19 era, when 62% of workers preferred an on-site model.
With 30% of employees surveyed saying they are likely to change jobs if required to return to the office on a permanent basis, return-to-work strategy has high stakes for businesses – particularly in the tight market for talent.
Some employees have legal protections to refuse to return, such as medical conditions, while others just don’t want to.
The pandemic has clearly had an impact on employees mental health. In the US, 56% of employees surveyed reported feeling at least somewhat burned out and at least 27% of employees reported a high degree of burnout.
Burnout is especially pronounced for people feeling anxious due to a lack of organizational communication.
For some organizations, the onsite environment is truly the best where in-person collaboration results in a more productive environment.
During the pandemic, some organizations spent less time in meetings, and certainly less time commuting when forced to work in a virtual environment. In many cases, individual productivity went up.
If your organization is considering a wholesale return to the office environment, you may face some unexpected challenges.
The McKinsey survey had some fascinating insights.
In describing the hybrid model of the future, more than half of government and corporate workers report that they would like to work from home at least three days a week once the pandemic is over. Across geographies, US employees are the most interested in having access to remote work, with nearly a third saying they would like to work remotely full time.
With many employers seeing resistance, many are choosing a hybrid approach that can accommodate the challenges employees may have with returning, such as a lack of child care options.
It’s also important for talent attraction and retention. Many employees will expect more flexibility moving forward, and it’s likely to be part of hiring negotiations.
So what does all of this mean for the office market? There is no doubt that demand of office space is going to continue to fall. I’ve been in direct discussions with the owners of buildings that have seen significant drops in leased space. The number of listings for subleased space has hit an all-time high. Subleases are being offered at fire-sale prices which will ultimately put downward pressure on the leasing rates for new office space that hits the market.