- Disney and Starbucks are requiring employees to return to the office more often.
- But a new survey of US CEOs suggests most companies won't be changing their policies.
- Even in a recession, many companies would likely stick with their remote working arrangements.
Some high-profile companies are calling workers back to the office, but if you're currently working from home, don't worry: You're likely to retain your current working arrangement.
Last week, Disney announced that beginning March 1st, hybrid workers will be required to return to the office four days per week, a shift from the company's previous three-days-a-week policy. Two days later, Starbucks told employees that beginning January 31st, those within commuting distance must work from the office at least three days per week, an uptick from the company's existing one-to-two days per week approach.
A new survey from think tank The Conference Board, however, suggests these kinds of announcements will be rare. Between November and December of last year, the think tank asked over 1,100 global corporate executives across several industries — including 670 CEOs — about their plans for remote work moving forward. 24% of respondents worked for US-based companies, which ranged from midsize businesses to those averaging over $5 billion in annual revenues.
Among the US CEOs surveyed, only 3% said they were planning to reduce remote work at their companies, while 5% said they were planning to expand it.
"There appears to be an emerging equilibrium around remote work in economies that more rapidly moved to hybrid models during the pandemic," The Conference Board wrote in an accompanying report, adding that for many businesses, "the challenge now is how to optimize a hybrid work model."
Millions of workers began working remotely once the pandemic took hold, and many companies stuck with hybrid or fully remote models even once COVID restrictions began to ease. For the past year, roughly 30% of full paid working days in the US have been done remotely, down from 60% in May of 2020 but up from 5% in 2019. While some executives are genuine fans of the work-from-home shift, others have used it primarily as a tool to attract and retain workers amid the Great Resignation and the ongoing labor shortage.
But there's always been speculation that as more time passed, the labor market cooled, and employers gained more leverage, some executives might start trying to cut back on remote work — or even make it a thing of the past. Many companies, like Apple, Twitter, and Goldman Sachs, adjusted their policies to varying degrees last year, and the Disney and Starbucks announcements suggest more may do so in the year ahead. The Conference Board survey, however, suggests these announcements will be few and far between.
That said, some other surveys suggest executives haven't given up on getting employees back to the office.
A Deloitte survey conducted last fall of 121 CEOs from Fortune 500 companies, for instance, found that 44% of executives agreed with the following statement: "I would like my employees to be back in the office, but I don't feel able to mandate it, due to tight talent competition."
Why remote work could survive a recession
Even if there is a recession this year, and the labor market takes a major hit, there are several reasons why employers may continue to embrace hybrid and remote work, Stanford economist and leading remote work researcher Nick Bloom previously told Insider.
First, Bloom said remote work "keeps employees happy" and could help companies retain and attract talent as a result. Quit rates are "clearly down" for companies offering remote and hybrid arrangements, he said, pointing to one study that found a hybrid arrangement reduced quit rates by 35%.
Second, remote work could save companies some money on their payroll costs. Bloom's research found US workers value a hybrid working arrangement roughly the same as a 5% pay raise, suggesting they'd be willing to take a 5% pay cut to work from home two or three days per week.
Third, Bloom said his research has found that a hybrid work environment increases productivity.
"Productivity seems to be up a little bit," he said. "It's not massive, but it's 3% to 5%."
Fourth, Bloom said remote work can help companies attract a diverse workforce.
"If you look in the data," he said, "people that are diverse within their workplace by race or gender or age are more likely to want to work from home."