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The Great Return: Survey Of Managers Reveals Return To Office Battle In 2022

Manager returns to office work environment

3,500 American managers share their thoughts and feelings about remote work, return-to-office mandates, their preferred working model (fully remote, hybrid, or in-office), how COVID-19 has impacted the hiring and retention process, pay cuts for those who refuse to return to the office, and much more.


Years before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were experimenting with remote work scenarios as work-life balance became a thing during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Working from home was a tech-driven phenomenon that seemed a natural move for hip, forward-looking companies, but as early as 2013, some companies had already declared the practice a failure

Nevertheless, the notion of working from home survived and fostered platforms like Zoom and Slack that would make seamless and secure business communication available to any size company.

The pandemic abruptly moved remote working from an experimental perk to an absolute necessity, however, and many employees came to enjoy the home office scenario full of added flexibility and a commute of just a few steps from bed to office.

Now, as the pandemic wanes, many companies are calling their workers back to the office. But these businesses are finding that they still have to make remote working concessions. Managers are realizing they cannot just flip the switch and demand that all employees return to the office for all of their shifts. 

With that in mind, we wanted to identify current management trends and discover the working models that managers prefer, potentially leading to “The Great Return.” So, we surveyed 3,500 American managers to find out their remote vs. in-office preferences as we move into the summer of 2022. 

We wanted to know what company working models—fully remote, hybrid, or fully in-office—are currently in place, managers’ plans for the future, and concerns and feelings about the remote vs. in-office working environments.

We retrieved a lot of compelling data, so let’s get into it.

Summary Of Key Findings

  • 78% of managers surveyed had workers in the office at some point prior to COVID-19.
  • 75% of managers said that some type of in-person work was preferred.
  • 60% of managers either strongly agreed or agreed that a full-time return to the office was happening in the near future.
  • 24% of managers did not believe their company would mandate a full-time return to the office this year.
  • 51% of managers thought employees wanted to return to the office full-time, and 49% were unsure or did not think employees wanted to return.
  • 51% of managers said their companies would definitely consider pay cuts for those employees that refused to return to the office.
  • 73% of managers said productivity and engagement had either improved or stayed the same with remote work compared to in-office work.
  • 68% of managers said a fully remote operation would either add to their profit or the bottom line would stay the same.
  • 60% of managers said they definitely do manage differently in-person vs. in remote environments.
  • 68% of managers shared that hiring processes had either entirely changed or had moved mostly remote.
  • 23% of managers disagreed that hiring from more locations due to remote offerings would allow them to hire better talent.
  • 24% of managers said they would not update hiring/recruiting practices to include candidates outside of specific locations to widen the talent pool.
  • 61% of managers agreed that they had been able to retain top talent during heavy remote/hybrid working times in the midst of COVID-19.
  • 74% of managers said their companies had either hired more or retained a level number of employees throughout the past two years of increased remote/hybrid work.

Now, let’s get into the full breakdown of our survey and the information gathered.

Circle graph showing 75% of managers prefer hybrid or full-time office work arrangements

Before & After: Working Models & Management Styles

To verify the pre-pandemic management preferences, we asked managers what type of working model they preferred. We found that 75% of managers said that some type of in-person work is preferred, while previous studies have shown employees much prefer fully remote work. 25% of managers desired a fully-remote model, 33% wanted employees fully in-office, and 42% preferred a hybrid setting.

Circle graph showing 75% of managers prefer hybrid or full-time office work arrangements

When asked “What type of working model did your company have in place before COVID-19 began?” a whopping 78% had workers in the office at some point during the week prior to COVID-19. 22% were fully remote, 35% had a hybrid environment, and 43% were fully in the office.

In answer to “What type of working model does your company currently have in place on a daily basis?” managers replied that hybrid work was up 12% post-COVID-19, while fully in-office work was down from 43% to 31%. Currently, only 22% of managers reported that their office was fully remote, and 47% verified that they were following a hybrid model.

We wondered whether managing remote workers was more difficult than running a traditional office, so we asked respondents to describe how they felt about the following statement: “I am experiencing burnout from managing remote employees and would much prefer to manage full-time in-office workers.” 

An overwhelming 69% of all managers said they agreed or were neutral about experiencing burnout with remote management and desired to manage in-office employees.

Finally, when asked if they managed differently in remote vs. hybrid work environments, 60% of all managers said they definitely did manage differently in person vs. in remote environments.

Despite Challenges, Managers Share Overall Positive Impact Of Remote Work 

When the pandemic forced so many businesses to go fully remote, productivity concerns became paramount: 

  • Would managers be able to maintain pre-pandemic margins without physical bodies in the office? 
  • Would employees motivate themselves to meet and exceed goals without having to physically report to their manager on a regular basis? 
  • Would employees become more engaged and form a strong team to push through the difficulties and constraints of endless calls, Slack messages, and Zoom meetings?

To get answers, we asked our respondents, “How has employee productivity and engagement changed in the remote workplace compared with pre-COVID-19 in-office work?” Surprisingly, 73% of surveyed managers reported that productivity and engagement had either improved or stayed the same with remote work compared to in-office work. Only 27% said it has worsened.

Bar graph showing managers thoughts on employee productivity

With the fact fully established that productivity and engagement were not negatively affected by pandemic-forced remote working scenarios, it followed that critical numbers would still be met. 

We then wondered, “How would/has a fully remote operation impact your bottom line?” Managers again were highly confident here as 68% of all managers said a fully remote operation would either add to their profit or the bottom line would stay the same — just 31% said it would be worse for business.

As offices closed in 2020 and remote work was mandated by an increasing number of companies, would-be employees were concerned about potential hiring freezes. Company onboarding processes could be stressful enough in normal work environments, but would the sudden shift to remote work cause companies to leave some positions unfilled or even attempt to lay off some employees? Would remote working change the structure of the office? Would some employee teams be consolidated? Would jobs lost by attrition remain unfilled? 

We posed the following question: “To what extent have you reassessed the number of people in each role at your company due to the shift to a more remote working environment? 

The good news? 74% of all managers said their companies had either hired more or that their staff numbers remained level throughout the past two years of increased remote/hybrid work.

Remote Work Impact On Recruiting, Hiring & Retention 

March 2020 was a tricky and tenuous time for job candidates. As companies made the swift move to remote work, did the interview process radically change? Did some firms feel that an in-person interview was still critical? Was it HR business-as-usual? And what about onboarding? Would online orientation be substituted for in-person meetings?

We asked, “To what extent have you modified your hiring process because of COVID-19 and remote/hybrid work?”

Interestingly, 68% shared that hiring processes had either entirely changed or had moved to a mostly remote situation. Almost one-third (32%) hadn’t made any changes to hiring practices because of remote/hybrid work.

Circle graph showing 68% of managers have modified their hiring practices

Even though local employees were instructed to work remotely, they were still geographically close to the office. If physical documents were required for a certain transaction, employees could come to the office to drop them off or pick them up, and this undoubtedly gave managers confidence that they could still communicate in person with certain employees if the situation dictated.

Remote working opportunities, however, could allow companies to access a nationwide talent pool. Would employers agree to take this step? Would they be excited about the ability to access top candidates anywhere in the country? 

More than half of surveyed managers were receptive to this idea as only 23% of all managers disagreed that hiring from more locations due to remote offerings would allow them to hire better talent, 57% strongly agreed or agree, and 20% were neutral on the idea.

Further inquiring about this trend we posed the following question:

“Describe how you feel about the following statement: Because of newly implemented remote working policies, my company has actually opened our recruiting/hiring practices to include candidates outside of specific geographies and widened the talent pool beyond traditional recruiting locations.”

Again, over half of our respondents were positive: Only 24% said they would not update hiring/recruiting practices to include candidates outside of specific locations to widen the talent pool, 56% agreed that they would be doing so, and 20% were neutral on the idea.

Opening remote working opportunities to candidates well outside a company’s geographical location might make hiring managers wonder about the impact more nationwide hiring opportunities would have on local employee retention. 

Would companies have to worry about top talent being poached by firms in other states because remote working scenarios were the norm? To find out, we asked managers to describe how they felt about the following statement: “I have been able to retain my top talent during remote/hybrid working times just as well as I did in pre-COVID-19 office environments.”

While 61% of managers agreed that they have been able to retain top talent during heavy remote/hybrid working times in the midst of COVID-19, 39% disagreed, and that shows us that talent has been moving across state lines.

Return-To-Office Mandates In 2022

As much as employees love remote work, managers are concerned about control. It’s hard enough to motivate employees to stay productive and focused while they are in an office, and remote working makes managing productivity even more difficult. 

In fact, some companies are even resorting to tools like ActivTrak that monitor workers’ computer activity. Do managers strongly feel that the solution to this problem is a back to the office mandate?

We asked respondents to describe how they felt about the following statement: “I believe my company will mandate a full-time return to office policy in 2022.”

A strong majority felt that remote working would soon be curtailed as 60% of all managers either strongly agreed or agreed that a full-time return to the office mandate is coming, while just 24% did not believe their company would mandate a full-time return to the office this year. Another 16% were on the fence about whether their company would implement the mandate.

Circle graphs showing 60% of managers think their company will mandate an office return

Every change brings a new set of problems, and if return-to-the-office, which some are calling The Great Return, is imminent, what are managers worried about? We found three main areas of concern:

  1. COVID-19 fears and infections at work
  2. Employees quitting for remote work
  3. Employee resistance due to disdain for the office

The Great Return and return-to-the-office plans are not universal, however, and while some managers may strongly favor having everyone back in the office, some companies may feel that since productivity has not suffered, they will allow some level of remote work to keep employees happy. 

What, then, would be managers’ biggest concern about not implementing a full-time return to office mandate in 2022? These answers were quite enlightening:

  • Lack of employee focus because of personal commitments
  • A struggle to create company culture and keep employees engaged in remote environments
  • Overall productivity issues with remote workers

Handling Issues With Return-To-Office Mandates

The Wall Street Journal recently quoted Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the American Enterprise Institute, and wrote:

“‘I don’t think that all of the smoke has cleared yet,’ describing the state of the labor market. After strict lockdowns were lifted by fall 2020, ‘we had a pretty remarkably rapid bounce-back in the macroeconomy,’ he recalls. Yet despite more than a year of plentiful job openings and rising pay, ‘millions fewer Americans are working or seeking work.’ Their absence is compounding the labor shortage, along with the related supply crunch and price spikes.”

Simply put, employees continue to have the upper hand as they navigate the job market. Unionization is on the rise, and employees know they are in an historically strong bargaining position. 

Because of today’s employee-favoring employment conditions, some current workers may simply demand to continue working remotely. We wanted to find out how managers would handle disgruntled employees who would demand fully remote work, and a big majority took a hard line as 77% of all managers said that severe consequences would occur–firings, pay cuts, loss of promotion opportunities, loss of benefits, loss of paid-time off. Just 23% would allow employees to work remotely full-time if or when return-to-office mandates are implemented.

Circle graph showing 77% of managers say there will be consequences for employees who won't return to the office

While 77% of managers took that strong position regarding workers who demanded that their remote working situation was not disrupted, slightly more than half actually said that they would cut pay for those that refused to return to work. 10% said they were not sure, and 29% replied that they would not cut employee pay.

Strong leaders and good managers, unlike the many terrible bosses we hear workplace horror stories about, understand current employee trends, but our respondents were split almost 50/50 regarding whether employees wanted to return to the office full-time or wished to stay working remotely, as 51% think employees wanted to return to the office full-time, and 49% were unsure or did not think employees wanted to return.

While our survey shows that managers were not in agreement about their employees’ desire to return to work, over 60% agreed that incentives were a good way to get people more enthused about a return to the office. When asked how they would persuade or incentivize employees to return to the office full-time, we found that:

  • 60% of all managers said they would either pay more for in-office work or include additional office perks (snacks, lunches, parties, happy hours)
  • Just 10% would consider offering childcare options at the office

What Should We Expect Going Forward?

A number of industries across the country are returning to normalcy. Research shows travelers are back on the road and in airports, restaurants are ending most vaccine mandates, and sporting arenas are packed with excited fans once again. 

So, what about the workplace as we move forward this year?

Without question, the number of fully-in-office workers has dropped precipitously during the pandemic, and our results have shown that managers agree that back-to-the-office mandates are surely coming. 

But when asked if company return-to-the-office plans had been shared with employees, only 19% of managers said their companies have planned, shared, and have already started their post-COVID working model.

We were mildly surprised to find out that managers felt productivity had risen and that company bottom lines were not damaged and even had been boosted during the recent remote working boom. 

In addition, hiring and retention have improved with remote opportunities, and the pool of potential remote workers has expanded to the entire 50 state area. 

Then why the expected wave of back-to-the-office mandates?

Numly Engage tells us that:

“Managers have been placed in a situation that is inordinately stressful where they are at the receiving end of their team’s challenges while facing performance pressures from their higher-ups.” 

We’ve seen that many managers have experienced burnout from managing remotely and that they prefer to see people in the office at least in a hybrid model. 

Furthermore, both managers and owners may harbor a basic distrust of the entire remote working scene as there are always those that try to game the system as evidenced by those workers that are working at multiple remote jobs. While instances of this behavior are not universal, working for two companies simultaneously would be a lot tougher, if not impossible, if workers returned to the office full-time.

The remote working movement has had a longer history than many realize. And while this trend was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are making the shift, albeit slower, to in-office mandates. 

As long as there is a talent and labor shortage, however, employers will still have to be flexible, and even in 100% back-to-the-office situations, workers will still be able to negotiate some remote working scenarios.

For more information on GoodHire’s research or to request graphics or an interview about this study, please contact press@goodhire.com.  

SURVEY METHODOLOGY

All data found within this report is derived from a survey by GoodHire conducted online via the survey platform Pollfish. In total, 3,500 adult Americans in management positions were surveyed. The respondents were found via Pollfish’s organizational role filtering feature. This survey was conducted over a five-day span from March 14-18, 2022. All respondents were asked to answer all questions as truthfully as possible and to the best of their knowledge and abilities. 

DISCLAIMER

The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.


About the Author

As GoodHire’s managing editor, Sara Korolevich produces educational resources for employers on a variety of employment screening topics, including compliance and screening best practices, and writes about GoodHire’s company and product news. Sara’s experience stems from 20+ years working as a B2C and B2B PR and communications professional.