By Andrew Keshner
Suppose you work from home at least once a week, but your boss instructed you to physically show up at the office full-time, starting August 1st.
If that command causes you to peruse the help wanted ads, you’re not alone.
Almost a year and a half into the pandemic, a new survey suggests work-from-home requirements are transforming from a temporary solution for employees into a bargaining chip to stay on the job.
A new University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute for Economics analysis suggests that workers’ preference for working from home will outlive the pandemic.
When more than 2,300 people were asked how they’d deal with a directive mandating a full-time return to the office, almost two-thirds (58%) said they would comply, and continue going about their job.
But 36% of people said they would follow the command — and also start looking for a job that would let them work remotely at least once or twice a week. Another 6% said they would quit instead of physically returning.
“Many workers and employers have discovered that working from home works better than anticipated,” the economists wrote, adding, “That’s led to new-found desires to continue working remotely after the pandemic ends. Some employers are willing and able to accommodate those desires, and some are not.”
The result is workers are “re-sorting” into companies and jobs that suit their preferences, the researchers noted. “As that process plays out, it will push up quit rates. It will also drive high job opening rates, as employers contend with the need for a higher-than-normal pace of replacement hires.”
As the economy rebounds amid the cross currents of more vaccinations and more delta variant COVID-19 cases , the findings address an unsettled question on what the job market’s “new normal” looks like.
Some employers, such as JP Morgan Chase & Co., (NYS:JPM) are planning to get workers back in the office full time , but others, including UBS, say a hybrid solution will work. Meanwhile others, like Apple (NAS:AAPL) , are deciding to push back timetables due to rising COVID cases.
Employers have to make these decisions at a time when they may want to do everything they can to hold on to all of their workers, and hire more too, during a labor shortage. The private sector quit rate hit a record 3.2% in April and then edged down in May to 2.9% . Earlier in the pandemic, it was at a seven-year record low of 1.8%.
Workers have their own tricky straits on whether to return to the office or not. In some companies, the in-office work experience might be the fast track to career advancement while remote workers potentially stay in the slow lane.
The University of Chicago survey results are no surprise to Ryan Sutton, district director for talent solutions at Robert Half (NYS:RHI) , the international staffing firm.
One-third of people working from home said they’d look for a new job if they were told to return to the office full-time, according to a 1,000-person poll the firm released in April.
Furthermore, Sutton, who specializes in permanent and contract hires for tech sector companies in New York and New England, sees the trend in his own work.
Job candidates will now often favor job offers that are remote or hybrid over full-time office roles, Sutton said.
Anecdotally, when candidates have a range of offers, he’s been seeing them opt for the remote/hybrid arrangements around three quarters of the time. “We are absolutely seeing a strong preference to prioritize remote and/or hybrid offers,” he said.
Sutton also works with companies who need contract work for projects. When they offer a higher rate for in-person work and a lower rate for remote arrangements, Sutton says he’ll sometimes see candidates opt for the lower, remote rate.
Before the pandemic, the tech sector was already moving towards more remote work, Sutton said. (Technology firms, like elsewhere, have a mix of return-to-office plans. ) But he thinks the preference for at least some time working from home goes beyond any particular sector and is here to stay.
In a wide range of roles, “you will see a variation of this trend really continue,” Sutton said. Companies have poured too much money, time and energy into remote and hybrid work capacity to walk away from it now, he said. “They are prepared like never before to operate in a hybrid setting,” he said.
And workers are increasingly prepared to take the job with the in-person, telework mix. If a person received a job offer that paid the same and allowed two or three days of work from home, 56% said they would likely take it, the new University of Chicago findings revealed.