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WFH vs. RTO: what really works for your business

Forget the sensational headlines. WFH vs. RTO isn't one-size-fits-all. Learn how to make informed decisions that suit your business model, workforce, and objectives. Uncover practical insights that will help you align employee preferences with business needs for a harmonious and productive work environment.

Suzanne Lucas
Suzanne Lucas

Suzanne, the Evil HR Lady, shares expertise, guidance, and insights based on 10+ years of experience in corporate human resources....

WFH vs RTO

47% of Employees Say They’ll Quit if Employer Orders Return to Office Full Time!

Return-to-office orders look like a way for elite, work-obsessed CEOs to grab power back from employees!

It’s a battle of headlines, none of which are grounded in reality. First of all, only 12% of employees work exclusively from home, so 47% of 12% is a measly 5.6%, and the survey actually found they would start looking for a new job, not up and quit.

But somehow, “5.6% of employees say they will start looking for a new job if they have to return to the office!” doesn’t get all those juicy hits that headline writers crave.

The article from the second headline does not support the headline at all. Yes, CEOs are generally more work-obsessed than the average person, which is how they got to be CEOs in the first place. You don’t get the top job at a blue-chip company by working 37.5 hours per week. Is it possible that this isn’t a power grab but a foundation in reality?

We know, for instance, that remote school was in large part a disaster. Children did not learn well, and test scores dropped. Plus, children preferred to be in school. Perhaps these “elite, work-obsessed CEOs” simply understand something that the average employee does not.

Related: The effects of ‘long remote’: how remote’s changed since 2020

But wait! Working from home can increase worker productivity by 77%!

OK, wait: the actual survey didn’t show that: it showed that 77% of people who worked from home reported being more productive.

How about the study that did an actual randomized control that found a 13% increase in productivity? Of course, that was one Chinese company, and the study took place over a nine-month period.

And, of course, other studies show that 2023 productivity is down, and those evil (ahem, elite work-obsessed) CEOs blame remote work.

There is no clear answer

All of this shows there is no way to make a blanket statement that remote work is good and in-person work is bad.

And what about hybrid work?

Related: The in-person vs. remote shuffle – what’s next? Hybrid!

As someone who has worked in person, remote, and hybrid, I strongly prefer hybrid. (I work from home exclusively, so I’m not saying that in hopes of getting to work from home a few days per week. Rather, I’d love to have an office to go to.)

What you have to do is right for your own business. And that will vary from company to company and perhaps even department to department. Here are some tips to help you figure out what works best for you.

Elon Musk got everyone’s knickers twisted when he demanded that Tesla employees return to the office.

He said:

“Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla. This is less than we ask of factory workers.“

Tesla’s primary business is making cars. That means all the staff ultimately support the factory workers, who must be onsite.

If your business is retail, hospitality, healthcare, or manufacturing, consider your primary business when considering remote work. If the people ‘doing the work’ must come to work, you probably want your office staff to be there.

Yes, they probably can work remotely – just about anybody whose job involves sitting behind a computer can – but if your primary business is onsite, your people probably should be primarily on-site.

Otherwise, you end up with a two-tiered system. This can breed resentment among the people who do the hard work of meeting customer demands and building products.

Related: Balance remote with in-person for a more productive workforce

At a minimum, you should focus on ensuring that everyone (except people with valid medical needs) works in the office at least some of the time.

Suppose your primary business is software development, a think tank, or something where absolutely everyone in the company can work behind a computer. In that case, having a largely remote workforce is much more logical.

But with that remote workforce, make sure you have plenty of opportunities for communication with each other!

Do you hire a lot of entry-level workers?

Experienced professionals know how the business world “works.” They know that savvy business people understand what is going on in other departments and are more likely to work to build relationships across the company – even in a fully remote situation.

New grads? Forget it. They don’t know how things are supposed to work. They don’t know how to run a meeting. They don’t know what they are doing, let alone what other departments do. They need training and lots of it.

And, despite Gen Z being raised on internet culture, they won’t learn how to work as adults unless you train them.

And, of course, you can’t just have the Gen Zs come into the office while everyone else works remotely. That’s a Lord of the Flies philosophy that doesn’t play well outside an English class.

If you need to train people from the ground up, you need people in the office both to be trained and trainers.

Is what you’re doing now working for you?

Are you remote? Onsite? Hybrid? Is it working out for you? Can you hire? Are your employees productive? What’s your turnover like? Sometimes, we spend a lot of time fretting about what we should do without considering whether what we are doing actually works.

If everything is going well and employees are engaged and productive, keep doing it. You don’t need to listen to the crowds shouting one way or another – there’s no perfect way to run a business.

Don’t use remote/hybrid/in-person work as a ‘fix’

If what you’re doing is not working and everyone is miserable, allowing remote work won’t solve the misery of anything other than the commute and the need to take a half day off when the washing machine repairman is coming.

If you have bad managers, remote work won’t fix it. If you have bad managers, bringing everyone into the office won’t fix it.

Your business may run better if everyone is in the office, if everyone is hybrid, or if everyone is remote. But make sure bad managers are the actual issue before you act. You can’t fix lousy management by changing employee location.

Overall, no single solution applies to every business. The working world isn’t that simple. Ensure you focus on what works for your employees and your business, and never mind the rest of them.

Frequently asked questions

What do US workers want now?

Our Great Discontent 2.0 survey report contains a wealth of data revealing how employee priorities in the US have changed since 2021. Learn more here.

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