We never expected when we packed up our desks back in March that the offices and workplaces we spent the majority of our lives inhabiting would soon become barren wastelands.
When I picture my desk, I cant help but imagine a flickering fluorescent panel illuminating a sea of empty cubicles, name tags dangling from above desks, a tumbleweed made from bits of crumpled up printer paper and scotch tape rolling by propelled by a nonexistent air conditioning draft.
But here we are, at the end of one of the strangest years for the American workforce, with a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon and the whispers starting to circulate. “When is your company moving back into the office? Is your company changing work from home policies? Will you have more work from home options or are you expected to report back to your desk any day now?”
Plans to Return to the Office
A survey recently conducted by Onelogin questioned over 1000 working adults in the US and discovered that 25% plan to go back to the office full time within the next 2-4 months. Another 18% do not plan on returning to on-site work for 6+ months. 16% of the professionals report already being back in the office a few days a week, whereas 9% will not go back into the office until a vaccine is fully deployed. 8% do not have an official plan as of yet, and 7% plan on never returning to the office, but, instead, continuing to work from home.
With results seemingly all over the board, it is apparent that the future of the workplace is still very foggy. We can, it seems, conclude that more people are expecting or wanting to return to the office then those in any other singular category. But how much of this decision was made by the individual devoid of outside influence, and how much was made out of company obligation or concerns over job security?
Internal and External Workplace Pressures
When asked whether they felt pressure by their employers to return to the workplace, the respondents of the above survey were pretty evenly split with 45% reporting yes, and 53% stating that they did not feel direct pressure. 2% were not exactly sure about their feelings.
The pressure to look good to our superiors and employers stems from two areas. The first is the societal pressure that comes from belief in the “American Dream.” That if you work hard, you can achieve your goals. The second, comes from the intrinsic need to be rewarded and recognized for your contribution, and the fear that if you do not appear as a “team player” that you will not receive that recognition, or may ultimately lose your job altogether.
This pressure to appear hungry and present is backed up by the referenced study. It states that while 33% of senior managers and 26% of junior managers were ready to return to work (employees in visible ladder climbing roles) only 16% of entry level (employees whose careers are not currently at pivotal points) and 17% of C-Level (employees who have already made it up the corporate ladder) employees are planning on returning.
For some, the freedom that working from home allows is much less stressful than the stuffy structure of an 8-5 workday. However, for others, the anxiety that surrounds self-discipline and ensuring productivity in an environment that is possibly more distracting than a quiet cubicle, is simply not worth the perks of remote work. For some, it is harder to be “seen” when they are not able to physically make an appearance.
So, this difference in personal stressors also adds to the skewed nature of the percentages found.
As we return to the workplace or make the decision regarding how much time we wish to spend working in office vs. working out of it, it is important to keep all these findings in mind. Only then can we make decisions that truly benefit our companies, ourselves, and our communities.