The Path Ahead: Key Insights from the Remote Work Index

Pushing our limits of resiliency, we continue to adapt to how and where we work. But despite a wide range of employee experiences, changes in workforce preferences, and evolving market conditions, new workforce data is adding clarity to the path ahead. It must be acknowledged that there has been a real and fundamental shift in attitudes toward remote work, and the degree of this shift is still playing out in real time.

To help our clients make sense of the latest reported figures relating to companies’ return-to-work (RTO) policies and hybrid work scenarios, Cresa has introduced The Remote Work Index. When cross referenced, this mosaic of data provides a range of office utilization patterns, mobility, and employee behavior. While any one data point may not paint the whole picture, looking at an array of reported information begins to show directional changes in how we are working and the trends that may inform leadership to make strategic decisions.

Cresa Remote Work Index

While only reaching half of the pre-pandemic office utilization levels, workers’ RTO rates are steadily increasing. This sentiment is mirrored by growing public transit ridership. While not fully back to pre-pandemic levels, trends are showing that more people are boarding trains, trolleys, and buses.

We think this RTO continuity will persist for at least three reasons: 

1. Despite the competitive job market, the softening economy is signaling the importance of workers being present and accountable to maintain their positions. As signals of layoffs are being reflected in the weekly new cycle, more employees are taking note. Prime-aged workers (ages 25 - 54) have returned to the office at levels near the pre-pandemic rate. Whether other aged cohorts will follow suit will depend on the tone and expectations leadership sets within their organizations. As the Covid-19 finish line has been consistently moved, there is now an official response due to President Biden’s declaration that May 11, 2023, will officially end the national and public emergencies. Some companies may leverage this mostly symbolic moment to control costs and announce their “RTO mandate.”

workplace trends RTO

2. If RTO is not mandated, or fear-based per the economic logic that workers need to be present to preserve their employment, there is a growing acknowledgement that employee’s long-term career opportunities may be at risk if remote work is the norm (not to mention impacts to one’s mental health, participation in corporate culture, peer to peer relationships, and holistic well-being). While 2020’s events encouraged a “survival mode” mentality, people are stepping back to consider career trajectories and how proximity bias may have a lasting impact on their career.  Workers acknowledge the need to be seen, the importance of professional development and mentorship, and the ability to effectively collaborate needs to take place in an in-person scenario. Succession plans do not happen in a vacuum, trust and reliability are forged by engaged, active contributors who have proven they can lead and provide a dependable future for an organization.

Office trends

3. As fully-remote-based job offerings decrease, signals are pointing toward a broad recognition that these types of roles are not the way forward for many organizations, despite their initial allure. In fact, 77% of Fortune 100 companies operate on a hybrid work schedule, with only a small proportion operating in a fully remote environment. In recent discussions with financial organizations, we uncovered that most firms are assigning RTO options by role, tenure, and level of influence within the organization. Left unsaid in this scenario is the loss of mentorship and leadership that many could provide if their role required a percentage of onsite attendance. While this approach may seem complex, Cresa offers a streamlined workforce analytics service to support clients in pursuit of mobility persona assignments. Cresa Workplace Solutions arms clients with persona-based data to help get workers back with confidence and clarity.

RTO trends

Forging the Path Ahead

Given the data, we believe the increased RTO rates will continue to grow at a consistent pace. Whether an organization is launching a mandate, a new hybrid policy, or continuing to function in some remote capacity, we encourage leaders to have conviction when communicating the significance and purpose of their chosen strategy. Defining your ‘why’ (just like Simon Sinek) gives reassuring clarity and confidence to employees. After all, “lack of direction” is cited as the number one driver of burnout (surprisingly, it was not from their workload). We are noticing successful leaders provide more precision reasoning than a simple “We want you back x days a week…”

We commonly hear companies say, “We still don’t know what to do.”  But that is not entirely true. While yes, change is a certainty, Cresa is extremely skilled at helping our clients develop and execute a strategic plan. Whether it’s rolling out a new mandate, providing change management, exploring an agile planning solution (re-thinking space standards), or evaluating location strategy, Cresa is helping clients everyday plan for the next generation of their workplace and emboldening their future. We can know what to do and are eager to help clients move forward by deploying a thoughtful workplace strategy tailored to an organization's specific needs, resulting in transparency for decision-making, stakeholder alignment, and amplifying organizational goals.

Arm in arm with our real estate advisors, Cresa’s workplace leaders can recommend not only how much space a client actually needs, but also the operational initiatives they need to get there.

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