This article first appeared on the Business Journals’ website.
Many small business owners want their employees to return to the office full-time as the pandemic wanes — and 39% said they would fire workers who refuse.
That is from a July 6 survey of 1,500 small business owners by Digital.com, which shows the potential disconnect between employers and employees over what the future of the workplace should look like as many workers hold out for remote jobs and other expect work-from-home flexibility as part of the job search
During the pandemic, about 30% of business owners said their employees worked remotely, while another 36% worked some combination of onsite and remote. But once the pandemic is over, only 10% plan to continue remote work, while about 37% plan on either a hybrid office or allowing employees to choose to work in the office or remotely and 39% expect employees to return to the office full time.
But that resistance to some kind of remote work offering may hurt businesses in the future, said Digital’s small business expert, Dennis Consorte, in a blog post.
“COVID-19 lockdowns didn’t create the move towards a remote workforce — it just accelerated the inevitable,” Consorte said. “Companies that focus on physical location and hours worked will be behind the curve. They should focus instead on the value produced by their extended teams. Otherwise, their most valued employees may seek out remote opportunities elsewhere.”
While 39% of business owners said they would fire employees who refused to return to work full time, about 39% said they would not, while the remainder said they were not sure. But about 47% of business owners who say they will fire employees for not returning are in white-collar industries such as computer and information technology, business, finance and advertising and marketing.
Experts say businesses can terminate employees for refusing to return to the office – although they note there are some cases when workers would have legal protections to refuse to return, in which case employers made need to make an accommodation. That could include an employee at high risk for Covid-19 who can’t be vaccinated. Still, many experts say it’s best for employers to have conversations with workers who refuse to return to try to develop an acceptable compromise, if possible.
What reason do business owners give for wanting to return to the office? About 45% say employee productivity decreased while working from home, while 45% said the interaction is better between customers and employees who are onsite. About 35% said employee morale declined, while more than 30% said miscommunication among employees increased.
“It’s true that in-person, human interaction has tremendous value for certain types of teams,” Consorte said. “It’s also true that some clients are impressed by a room full of people. But that’s old-school thinking. Outside of work, people are attached to their mobile devices. They send emails and texts. They have video calls, tag their friends on social media and swipe right for dates. Remote work is just an extension of this existing trend, and companies that are stuck in an old mindset will be left behind.
But the return to the office comes with conditions, according to the survey, with 42% of employers planning to require that employees be vaccinated against Covid-19, with that number rising to 54% among employers who will want employees to be full-time onsite.
Another 55% will mandate the wearing of masks while at work, while more 40% plan regular temperature checks and more than 30% plan regular Covid-19 testing.
And while employers should set whatever protocols they feel makes sense, they should also give employees enough notice to deal with any negative feedback, Consorte said.
“Be careful though. People who feel like their privacy and personal choices are hindered by an employer may feel resentment. This translates to lower productivity, low morale and job-seeking behavior,” Consorte said. “Consider implementing safety protocols that are less invasive and more flexible. Think in terms of rewards, rather than punishments.”
The focus on remote work has only heightened amid what many experts are calling the “great resignation” or “great reshuffling” as workers flee their jobs at historic rates. Companies are upping pay and super-sizing bonuses while scrambling for workers as Covid-19 restrictions ease and the economy recovers.
But many workers simply don’t want to be in a physical office. The average worker, according to one study, is willing to take a small pay cut to keep working from home two or three days a week after the pandemic ends. Employees at some of the biggest tech companies are also willing to take a pay cut in order to relocate to a cheaper part of the country — and by a wide margin.
Tech employees at some of America’s largest employers are also willing to forgo a $30,000 raise to permanently work from home, and up to two-thirds of those unsatisfied with their current remote work policies say they would quit their jobs entirely because of them.