Workers Really, Really Don’t Want to Go Back to the Office

And they’re willing to quit over it

Key Takeaways

  • Knowledge workers want to keep working from home.
  • Employers who insist on going back to the office may find it hard to hire and keep good talent.
  • Nobody likes commuting. Nobody.
Someone working from home, sitting on the living room floor, leaned against the couch.

Thought Catalog / Unsplash

After more than a year of working from home, employees really don’t want to return to the office every day.

Pre-pandemic, work-from-home was relatively rare. It was seen as goofing off or as detrimental to teamwork. And yet, when the majority of the workforce was forced into remote work, we found out that people got more done, in less time, and without the long hours wasted commuting.

Now, bosses want people back in the office, but the workers are prepared to quit rather than comply. The power balance has shifted. Are we seeing a turning point in office culture?

"I think that the world has changed. The pandemic has accelerated a trend that was happening already," Thejo Kote, CEO of Airbase, an accounting platform company with around 100 employees across nine countries, told Lifewire via email.

"The model of distributed work and hiring people anywhere in the world has been happening for a while. The pandemic has forced a trend that probably would have happened in the next 10 years anyway, and which is not going away."


Factories powered the industrial revolution, and these required people to work together in one place for long shifts. This model is still the norm for much of the working world. In some businesses, there’s no way around it. But for knowledge workers, the last year has proven forced attendance is unnecessary.

Asking all employees to return to work will also increase the pressure to minimize health risks, ensure compliance, and guarantee their well-being.

According to the BBC, employees are willing to quit rather than return to the office. This creates a power shift if these folks actually start leaving in significant numbers.

Recently, Apple mandated a return to the office. Employees weren’t happy and got together to push against the decision. Hiring and keeping talent is already a problem for tech companies like Apple and Google, so if it requires in-person attendance, while another company offers more flexible work arrangements, but with the same salary and benefits, the challenge gets even more difficult.

"As much as employers may say that working in the office encourages creativity and teamwork, which I believe it does, the new 'cost' of requiring so will mean high employee turnover starting with their best and most productive/impactful employees first," HR consultant Scott Baker told Lifewire via email. 

World Talent

Hiring remotely also lets companies tap into a global talent pool, rather than only hiring—in our example of Apple and Google—people willing to endure the high costs of living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This has other advantages. You may not need to pay as much to attract talent from other countries. On the other hand, if remote work becomes the norm, the brain-drain may become a problem for poorer countries. 

"Suppose your company is in a costly location," says Kote. "In that case, if you are unwilling to accommodate remote working, that's a considerable disadvantage compared to your competitors, who may be making a distributed model work from both a cultural and productivity perspective. Your cost basis is naturally, and artificially, higher because of your limited pool and location."

Someone working from home, sitting in the middle of the bed with a laptop, notebook, smartphone, and papers.

Jodie Cook / Unsplash

One option is a hybrid approach, where in-person attendance is only required part-time or once every week or month. This keeps some of the advantages of the office—stronger interpersonal relationships, for example—while allowing more flexibility. But this model still requires employees to live near their place of work. 

Not For Everyone

Not everyone can quit their job or even wants to work from home. For some, the home office is a kitchen table surrounded by kids who don’t understand that they can’t play with mommy or daddy. For others, quitting a job in the middle of a pandemic is a terrifying idea.

"While many people may prefer a remote option, giving up a salary and health insurance in an uncertain economic time is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea," Daivat Dholakia, director of operations at GPS car tracking company Force by Mojio, told Lifewire via email. 

"Finally, it is important to remember that the pandemic isn’t history yet," Joe Flanagan, senior employment advisor at VelvetJobs, told Lifewire via email.

"Asking all employees to return to work will also increase the pressure to minimize health risks, ensure compliance, and guarantee their well-being. In case of future waves of infection or mutations, organizations will be forced to shift back abruptly."

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