The battle began brewing in earnest around the middle of 2022. After more than two years of allowing employees to work from home, companies were ready to put their metaphorical foot down. Stories of employers demanding a return to the office started spreading like wildfire, and now, as we move into 2023, it seems the back-to-office train has officially left the station.
Now, a majority of managers predict their employers will require all employees to head back into the workplace full time.
If you're panicking at that news, don't fret just yet. Even as employers prepare their offices for some staff to return, more still are getting ready to permanently embrace a hybrid approach, allowing team members to work in the office and from home at will.
It's not a perfect solution, but hybrid work appeals to many employees who want the best of both worlds. At FPS, we're still (and always) firmly in the work-from-anywhere (WFA) court, but this emerging trend of hybrid work is one we can see as a first step to a greater remote revolution.
But, whether you're fully remote, hybrid, or heading back to the cubicle, we've got a rundown of the workplace trends you can expect to see in 2023. Some we feel are destined to fail, and some we believe can apply, even to totally remote teams. Let's take a look.
Back-to-Office Trends That Tank
The Elon Musks of the world aren't here for your work-from-home shenanigans. Some employers (usually those wealthy enough to not have to go into the office themselves) believe the best work can only happen in person, and they've got a brigade of outdated thinkers who, unfortunately, have enough power to influence the business world negatively. You can expect to see the fallout of these backward ideas popping up all over in the year ahead.
Many companies pawned off underutilized real estate during the pandemic to cut costs. We can't blame them, but for those insisting employees flood back into the office, they may have a lot less space to work with.
What does this mean? Overall, it means fewer individual spaces like offices or cubicles and more shared/collaborative spaces. But while collaboration is great, in a post-pandemic world, so is personal space. That whole "six feet apart" thing won't happen in these workplaces.
As a society, we now have shared trauma due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That trauma is real, and it may manifest in ways we can't yet foresee. Cramming employees back into an office space where they have to be around coughing coworkers and sniffling managers may be triggering (and could cause a real mess should a new variant arise).
Remote employees report being happier and more satisfied, but if they're forced to return to the office, we can expect to see stress, burnout, and greater struggle with work/life balance.
Big Brother Is Watching
For remote employees who have experienced the freedom and autonomy that comes with working from home, the idea of being in an office where they are overseen and checked up on by management is probably a big NOPE. Butts in seats doesn't work, whether employees are in a cubicle or their home office.
But even more than that general feeling of being watched, there's also a trend toward having employees actually watched. In an effort to monitor employees' health and habits, some companies are looking at wearable tech or AI assistants to keep tabs on what employees are doing. Not only is this creepy af, but it also presents a huge privacy risk.
Social Skills Recovery
For many of us, our level of human interaction has decreased dramatically over the last couple of years. It will take a major adjustment to get back in the habit of conversing and interacting with coworkers in a real-time, "live" situation. And for those who entered the workforce during the height of the pandemic (mainly Gen Z), they've never had the opportunity to learn how to navigate this type of environment. It will be a learning (or relearning) process that could take a lot of time and effort.
Back-to-Office Trends That Transfer
It's not all doom and gloom, we promise. There are several back-to-office trends we're seeing in 2023 that transfer well to remote work. Luckily, those trends are happening in all types of workplaces, from traditional office settings to hybrid companies to fully remote teams.
You've heard about quiet quitting, which happens when employees lose their motivation and purpose. They do the bare minimum to keep their job, which means the company loses skills and productivity but keeps the same number of people on staff.
In the case of "quiet hiring," the reverse happens. Leadership looks for ways to work with employees to recharge their passion and give them a reason to achieve more, learn more, and do more. Instead of hiring and training new employees, they seek ways to offer learning opportunities to develop critical skills among existing staff.
During the shift to remote work, managers needed a lot of support. Now that many are going to return to the office, they'll need extra support to get through another transition. But what we're seeing is that whether they're in-person or remote, managers need help. Managers are the connectors between employees and the business; when those connections are frayed, a real breakdown can happen.
We anticipate that in 2023, we'll see more manager training and leadership nurturing to identify and fill any major gaps and create stronger managers that are connected to their teams.
We know that the younger generation of knowledge workers expects more from their employees. They aren't satisfied with corporate "greenwashing" (when a company postures that it's doing more for the environment than it really is).
They want to know that the business is taking sustainability seriously and is making a conscious and noticeable effort to lessen its footprint and contribute to positive environmental change. Gen Z doesn't care what companies say about their sustainability — they want to see receipts.
Increased Focus on Mental Health
Probably the most positive trend we're seeing in 2023 is a renewed focus on mental health. Companies that are in touch with employees and their needs understand that a return to the office is a major shift, and they want to be sure they provide the support needed to manage such a transition.
Similarly, smart managers and leaders know that employees of all kinds, including those managing a new hybrid schedule or feeling the isolation or loneliness of remote work, need additional support, too. If nothing else, this pandemic has placed the mental health needs of workers from and center, as the need for more work/life harmony becomes clearer.
Bottom Line: It's Going to Take More Than Energy Drinks and Snacks to Get Employees Back to the Office
You think we're joking? In a survey, most managers said their companies were planning to woo employees back to the office with free food and beverages.
Also notice that more than 10% actually admitted they weren't going to do a damn thing. We're not sure which is worse.
Look, we're always going to be remote-first and remote forever. But we were doing it way before 2020, so it's nothing new to us. We get that it's hard for businesses that haven't done this before to really understand what they're asking of employees when they ask them (force them) to come back to the office.
But there are trends ahead in 2023 that we're excited to see. We hope there will be more flexibility overall and that the many businesses embracing hybrid models will eventually return to the #WFA lifestyle.