The stats are in — after the quick and deadly Delta variant spread, less than a third of working New Yorkers reported to their offices in September and almost 20 percent of Midtown Manhattan office space sat empty.
Four million U.S. workers quit jobs in July. That’s rough news for employers hoping to bring workers back to the office. This “great resignation” coupled with a preference for remote work can be seen in the windows of empty office spaces across the country.
Mid-career employees (those 30 to 45 years old) are quitting their jobs at historically high rates, according to a recent study. Whether due to seeking other work pursuits or a more general malaise brought on by pandemic anxieties, many are reevaluating their lifestyles and questioning their job satisfaction. More than a third (37 percent) of the global workforce believes their employers pushed them too hard during the pandemic, according to a Microsoft Work Trend Index survey. And the vast majority (87 percent) would prefer to continue to work remotely, according to a LinkedIn poll.
That’s probably why we saw big companies like Apple and Google decide to put off “back to office” work mandates until 2022. As Delta variant cases surged all through the summer and continue to concern many employees, remote working is a reality many companies — large and small — are just coming to grips with. To retain talent lately it seems best to allay worker fears by offering the option to return to the office.
It remains to be seen whether “the great resignation” and the remote work culture among the professional class signals a permanent change in the zeitgeist. For now, it’s deeply affecting office hubs like New York City, particularly in Manhattan’s Midtown. Its weekday hustle and bustle, with busy coffee-drinking, working professionals might become a New York of the past.
However, employers have some strategies to retain workers and even lure some lost ones back… while boosting productivity:
- Be open to remote work. Even if your office requires certain “onsite” activities, in many cases a hybrid approach can still work, where workers commute to the office two or three times a week, but still maintain the remote work they prefer.
- For those who want to return: Make offices an inviting space for your workforce. Avoid overcrowding. The cubicle-to-cubicle office culture can be distracting to workers. Even if they are not at that executive “corner office” level yet, they likely still need some space to concentrate.
- For those remoting: Encourage them to create an office space at home that is separate and allows for privacy so that they don’t get overwhelmed or distracted by home life. This is especially true for those with small children.
- Assist, if possible, with perks like computers and office supplies that help them set up their home office and take working remotely seriously. Consider, if you have the budget to do so, offering to contribute to the cost of high-speed internet service — at least to cover the work hours when they’d normally be working in the office.
- Have regular remote meetings, to keep employees in the loop, make them feel heard and to recognize their work contributions.
- If workers feel it’s unfair to work onsite when others are still at home, perhaps bonuses can be given to those who choose to commute to the office.
The idea is to offer incentives for employees to return to the office instead of disincentives or penalties for those who don’t. As the data has shown, employers who threaten penalties risk losing a chunk of their workforce.
Planning for an office return in the future and taking a wait-and-watch approach, allows workers to adjust to the idea of returning to the office without pressuring them to return. Ultimately, the global workforce will decide when and if it’s ever ready to fully return to the office again.