2024: The End of Fully Remote?

A new survey shows that nearly all leaders want workers in the office at least one day a week. Will fully remote be a thing of the recent past?

As Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner Seth Steinberg wrapped up two recent searches for supply-chain executives, he asked the companies whether working remotely was an option for the role. In both cases, the organizations were willing to pay significant moving expenses, but unwilling to let the recruit work remotely full-time. “The attitude is ‘We need the executives to be in and around the headquarters or office location,’” he says.

The New Year is just around the corner and experts say it could mark the end of an era. In a new survey, 99% of more than 500 US C-suite and business leaders said that they expect employees in the office at least one day a week. That’s a big change from last year, when just 66% made that stipulation.

To be sure, as they did before the pandemic, firms with “all in the office” policies did have exceptions to allow a small percentage of workers to stay all remote. And firms have definitely been more open to hybrid policies of three or so days a week.

But the return-to-office question has been at the front of most people’s minds since tens of millions of employees were sent home at the onset of the COVID-19 lockdowns. At the height of the pandemic, 42% of Americans worked remotely (today, around 30% do). Even then, though, many corporate leaders felt that their organizations were more efficient and innovative when people were working together in the same place. “I believe companies aren’t doing it just to be mean, but they feel something has gone missing in their cultures,” Steinberg says.

There’s evidence that certain activities are done more effectively as on-site collaborations, such as onboarding new employees, team bonding, and kicking off projects. Overall, US productivity has improved recently as more organizations have mandated that employees return to the office at least some of the time.

But experts caution that a one-size-fits-all approach could potentially undermine the flexibility and agility that many organizations and employees gained over the last few years. “Clients keep asking for the silver bullet. But there isn’t one,” says Alma Derricks, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Culture, Change and Communications practice.

Ending all-remote options also might decrease a firm’s potential talent pool, experts say. For one thing, some employees just don’t want to travel to work, and some commutes—as well as crime in cities where many firms are located—have become worse since the pandemic, says Dan Kaplan, a Korn Ferry senior client partner in the Chief Human Resources Officers practice. These employees might eventually show up, he says, but they might not give their full efforts once there.

Remote work has offered employment opportunities to people managing extensive caregiving responsibilities or living far away from an office. Remote options have also become a signal that a firm is committed to inclusivity and equality, says Alina Polonskaia, a global leader in Korn Ferry’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consulting practice. “Dropping remote-work options sends a weaker signal about creating an inclusive environment,” she says.

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