March 15, 2021

Ceridian/Harris Poll Return to work survey: The vast majority want to return to the office

According to the latest Ceridian poll, the demise of office life has been greatly exaggerated. Susan Tohyama, Ceridian’s Chief Human Resources Officer, outlines what employers should be considering before returning to the workplace.

It’s been a long winter, and while it isn’t over just yet, glimmers of hope are beginning to appear. Vaccine rollouts are gaining momentum. Those that were prioritized are beginning to reclaim a sense of normalcy in their lives. And while all of this offers room for some much-needed optimism, we have a long road ahead on many fronts, not the least of which is the return to the workplace.

The novelty of working from the comfort of our own homes has officially worn off. What was once seen pre-pandemic as a perk has become tiring at best, and employees are officially ready to reunite with their colleagues at the office. In other words, if you ask employees, it appears the demise of office life has been greatly exaggerated.

According to our latest online poll of virtual and hybrid workers* conducted just last week on behalf of Ceridian by The Harris Poll:

  • Eighty-three percent want to return to the office full time at some point
  • Half (52%) feel isolated from their colleagues working remotely
  • One-third (36%) feel that working from home has negatively impacted their career growth
  • Thirty-six percent feel working from home has had a negative impact on their mental health

The mass shift to this mode of working was born out of necessity in order to keep people safe and businesses running. And while some postulated that this would be the norm moving forward, it was always a temporary measure that would need to be re-evaluated when the time was right.

That time appears to be now. However, this move back to the office will not be simple, and unlike the transition we experienced a year ago, it will be gradual. Organizations will need to address new complexities to meet the needs of their employees – and there's no one-size-fits-all roadmap. As we look forward, here are a few things to keep top of mind for employers over the next few months:

  • Offer a staggered return to work: Many organizations have likely already identified the roles that are best suited to a virtual mode of working versus those that require in-person interactions. This is a good starting point when considering how and when to bring employees back.
  • Give your employees choice: As highlighted above, the data shows us that a return to work is preferred among the vast majority of office workers. But each organization, workforce demographic, and geography is unique. For a variety of reasons, not everyone will be willing or able to return, but you won’t know if you don’t ask. Surveying your employees will help to better understand how they feel, while also informing HR departments and other stakeholders on what the return might look like.
  • Support employee mental health and well-being: Employees have experienced their own unique challenges coping with the impact of the pandemic in their professional and personal lives, and the return to work may be more difficult for some than others. Forward-thinking employers must continue to prioritize employee wellbeing today – and in the years ahead.
  • Prepare the physical space for the new normal: Our poll shows that 62% of virtual and hybrid workers think that when returning to an in-person environment, the office should be designed with assigned desks with safe distancing between work areas. While returning to the office is on the minds of many, the physical space itself will need to be adapted, from cleaning and sanitary practices to the layout of meeting spaces and work stations that support social distancing.
  • Develop a “re-exit” plan: To prepare for potential threats such as a resurgence of COVID-19 or other public health emergencies, organizations should have a plan in place around exiting the workforce for a second time, and share that with the workforce to provide greater visibility and reassurance.

Signs of the eventual return to normalcy will no doubt be celebrated, but with it comes another set of complications that need to be carefully considered, planned for, and communicated. And not everything will be the same as it once was. The look and feel of office life will show signs of the times we’ve endured. Virtual work arrangements will be more common and in some cases the norm, with some like Forrester predicting a rise surpassing 300% of pre-COVID levels. And the importance of technology to drive employee experiences and wellness will continue to be elevated and represent a competitive advantage for employers moving forward. Yes –  it’s almost a certainty that things will never be the same – but a lot of the change will be for the better. And the viewpoints shared by employees will shape what the future will look like. As employers – let’s make sure we’re listening carefully.

* Defined as those who are employed and currently/previously worked in an office setting and currently work remotely/or work both from home and in the office.

Survey Methodology: The survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Ceridian from March 4-8, 2021 among 1,156 employed adults ages 18 and older, of whom 818 currently/previously worked in an office setting and 442 who currently/previously worked in an office setting and are currently remote or work both in the office and from home. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Susan Tohyama

Susan Tohyama is Chief Human Resources Officer of Ceridian, responsible for designing and driving the global people and culture strategy, including talent development, recruiting, diversity, compensation, benefits, and employee engagement.

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