Back to Work: How Americans Feel About Returning to Physical Offices

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of American businesses shifted from physical offices to remote workplaces. This transition helped many keep their doors open-and thrive. But despite the success of virtual workplaces in the last 18 months, many organizations are beginning to ask or mandate that employees to return to physical offices.

To understand how people feel about working virtually-and whether they want to return to physical offices, we conducted research of 1,560 Americans. The study found that 42% (650 respondents) are currently working virtually full - or part-time. These respondents were asked about whether they prefer to continue working remotely, whether having to return to a physical office would cause respondents to seek employment elsewhere, if incentives would impact their willingness to stay with their company, whether they feel safe working in a physical office and other related questions.

Our top takeaway? There is an enormous disconnect between what employees and employers want. The vast majority of people surveyed currently working remotely do not want to return to physical offices, but their employers are going to ask or mandate that they do.

Here are other noteworthy findings:

  • Nearly three quarters of respondents working virtually would prefer to continue doing so as opposed to working in a physical workplace full- or part-time, but only 25% will not be required to return to a physical workspace full- or part-time in the coming months.
  • 84% of respondents will require some virtual workplace flexibility from their employer in the future.
  • Having to return to a physical workplace all or part of the time would cause 41% of respondents to seek employment with another company.
  • 70% of respondents would be more open to working in a physical workplace if they received an incentive from their employer.
    • Money was the top incentive choice—beating out paid time off and the option to continue working from home sometimes.
    • More than half (53%) would accept $1K or less to return to a physical workplace.
  • About half of the respondents report the importance of being recognized and thanked by their employer has increased since the pandemic began.
  • One third of respondents do not feel safe returning to or working in a physical workplace, and the majority (62%) would prefer at least 80% of their colleagues be fully vaccinated before they return.
  • Most respondents (72%) have either been fully vaccinated or are partially finished with the process; while 6% who haven’t been vaccinated wouldn’t mind getting it if their employer required it, 17% would consider seeking employment elsewhere if the vaccine were mandated by their employer.
  • Among those who have not yet been vaccinated, half of respondents would be willing to consider starting and/or finishing the COVID-19 vaccination process if they received an incentive from their employer.
  • Money was the top incentive choice among respondents—beating out paid time off, a discount on health insurance, merchandise, free food & drinks, and “other”.
  • 39% of respondents would like to receive their money on a prepaid or gift card.

“The employee engagement paradigm has undergone a great transformation,” said Theresa McEndree, Global Head of Marketing and Corporate Brand, Blackhawk Network. “A talent-driven market, paired with fluctuating expectations and needs for how we define the workplace, creates a unique challenge for employers. How do you create education and participation around what the future of work looks like? Employees and employers alike are looking for rewarding ways to navigate a very dynamic and complex environment. Communication, bolstered reward programs and transparency are critical to ending the ‘great recession’ and moving forward as a strong, healthy organization.”

1 The “Back to Work August 2021” report is based on the findings of an internet-based survey conducted by Survey Monkey on behalf of Blackhawk Network between August 2–5, 2021. The sample size included 1,560 U.S. respondents ages 18+, including 650 who work virtually full- or part-time.

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