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By Mallika Mitra
September 3, 2021
Man working from home on his computer while he pets his dog
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Employers, good luck getting your workers back to the office full time.

Employees want to work from home 2.5 days a week on average, according to data from monthly online surveys of 5,000 U.S. employees conducted by the University of Chicago, Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and Stanford University. Nearly 80% of those surveyed want to work from home at least one day each week.

And if workers don't get what they want, they'll walk: more than 40% said they would seek a new job or quit if they were told they had to return to an office full time.

The pandemic has likely changed the way we work forever. When COVID-19 hit the U.S., offices were forced to send workers home and quickly adapt to news means of communication and collaboration. Some companies, like Shopify and Upwork, changed their business models early on to make remote working the default.

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But now that around 64% of the population of people age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, many companies really want to see their employees back in the office. Banks Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are taking a strict approach, expecting that eventually employees will be back in the office five days a week.

Meanwhile, even industries that are being more flexible, like tech, are getting employee pushback. When Apple said employees would have to return to the office three days a week, staffers wrote a letter to the tech giant demanding a more flexible approach.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, which recently moved the date back on its return-to-office plans (again), sent an email to employees this week saying that come January, the company's different work locations will "make determinations on when to end voluntary work-from-home based on local conditions."

Recruiters are warning that asking employees to work from an office full time could hinder hiring, and young workers especially are questioning the need to return to an office. On top of this, the labor market is really tight right now, so employees have the upper hand. Companies like CVS and Walgreens are raising pay to $15 an hour or more. Other major employers, like Amazon and McDonald's, are offering big signing bonuses and even help with childcare to attract or retain workers.

The survey data found that people of color and highly educated women with young children place an especially high value on being able to work remotely for at least part of the week. Black workers, for example, said they want to work from home 2.6 days a week on average, compared to 2.2 days for white workers. Among respondents who had a college education and young children, 34% of women wanted to work from home five days per week compared to just 26% of men.

As employees have gotten attached to skipping their commutes and working from their couches or comfortable home offices, experts say employers will need to adapt to this new normal.

"Requiring a full-time office presence was easy in 2019 when other firms did the same," the survey team wrote in Harvard Business Review. "In 2021, ordering employees back to the office full time risks a stampede of top talent to rivals that offer hybrid working arrangements."

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