Thought Leadership|Trends|

One can find evidence to support each side of the RTO-WFH discussion, but work-life balance should be personal and responsive.

Canceling “Summer Fridays” right before Labor Day? While a proverbial slap in the face to workers before the holiday that celebrates their year-round contributions, the timing is no doubt better than before the Fourth of July. Make no mistake about it though: Goldman Sachs’ high-profile push to get its staff to return to the office five days a week is the latest salvo in the ongoing, nationwide return to office (RTO) debate.

We’ve discussed before in this space how a major side effect of the pandemic has been increased employee flexibility as millions were forced into, then embraced remote and hybrid working. That freedom will not be easily (or ever) relinquished. Furthermore, the major labor shortage persists. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, if every unemployed person from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., found a job, the country would still have around 4 million open positions. Work from anywhere has another connotation in this employee’s market.

Still, company bosses, office owners and pretty much any and all stakeholders in the beleaguered sector are making their RTO position heard, especially this long after the end of COVID-19. CNBC reported that major corporations such as Disney, Starbucks and BlackRock are requiring more time at the office for their employees.

As of spring, the amount of companies requiring in-office work had more than doubled year over year. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of corporate real estate executives reported that their companies now require employees to return to the office at least some of the time, up from 31% a year earlier, according to CBRE’s Spring 2023 U.S. Office Occupiers Sentiment Survey.

Financial/professional services firms lead the way in that regard at 71% while tech companies are only at 56%, Bisnow reported. Of the 207 corporate real estate executives who participated in the survey, 45% want mostly in-person work, up from 8 percentage points since 2022, versus 22% who want a mostly remote work format, up from 15% last year. Although 40% of survey respondents expect office attendance to increase, more than half at big companies expect to further decrease their office footprints as leases expire.

When it comes to RTO, there’s the good, the bad and the funny. On one hand, office workers are 18% more productive, according to an MIT and UCLA study. On the other, CoStar reported an all-time high office space availability rate of 16.4% after first quarter. Then there’s Zoom, the epitome of remote working, requiring more in-person office time for its workers.

Justin Owings, in his book Exec on the Desk, a play on “Elf on the Shelf,” quips, “[Leaders] hope water coolers and hallway collisions spark innovation. Only when people show up, the heads go down and the headphones go on. How else do you defend yourself from the assault of the open, collision-friendly office?”

The path forward and possibilities for office-using organizations and their employees definitely seem open and collision-conducive.

“We’re still relatively early in this massive upheaval of work life and office use, but we go back to the ol’ truism ‘our people are our greatest asset,’” said Vince Vitti, infinitee’s vice president of business development and the firm’s recruitment marketing guru. “Companies must do right by their people with RTO so they can stay on course to reach their goals.”


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