Will a recession get people back in the office?

In October 2020, a Pew Research Center survey found that 64% of respondents were working from home because their office closed amid the pandemic. By January 2022, 61% were doing it because they wanted to.

Many have embraced WFH’s benefits, but could a recession change all that? It’s a question The Atlantic‘s Derek Thompson, author of the Work in Progress newsletter, recently pondered.

What’s the logic?

Lately, it’s been a job seeker’s market, with companies offering higher wages and better perks to lure talent.

But if “the Great Resignation becomes the Great Labor Slackening,” Thompson writes, it could put power back in bosses’ hands – half of whom think in-office workers are more productive.

Meanwhile, real estate developer Stephen Ross suggests that employees might voluntarily go back because they’re afraid of being laid off.

  • In that same Pew Research Center survey, 14% of those who returned to the office did so because they feared missing work opportunities while at home.

Gen Z may also be a factor; the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) found 63% of them want in-person training, and only 23% consider a WFH option important.

But a recession could also mean…

… Cutting costs. Sure, that could mean layoffs, but you know what else costs money? Offices – plus, electricity, internet, janitorial services, coffee, snacks, etc.

  • Global Workplace Analytics found that companies could save an average of $ 11k / yr. per half-time remote employee – a figure that would naturally increase for each full-time worker.
  • FlexJobs found the average employee saved $ 4k / yr. if working remotely, factoring in lunch, commuting, and wardrobe.

It’s also expensive to recruit and hire new employees, especially if talent would rather quit than return to the office.

So it’s also possible that WFH could expand as it becomes a perk used to recruit talent, while simultaneously saving money on office space and other benefits.

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