Workplace Trends 2024: Will WFH Survive the ‘Return to The Office’ Call?

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Explore the workplace trends that are emerging as we look to the next year, from employees desiring more remote work, to CEOs saying "Get back to the office!"

In 2019, the workplace was very different. There was a belief that allowing employees to work from home would make onboarding new hires difficult. Many also believed that it would compromise security and erode company culture.

As a result, managers worldwide handed out the standard excuse of, “If I let you work from home, I will have to let everyone” — and it became a luxury enjoyed by the few rather than the many.

It would take a global pandemic to deliver an epiphany that remote and hybrid working had far more benefits than negatives. Less time commuting to the office was considered better for the environment and workers’ productivity as individuals began to define what work-life balance looked like to them.

Employers that resisted this change in expectations from their staff arguably contributed to the great resignation where employees quit or changed jobs in search of a better employee experience and meaning in their work. But in 2023, attitudes changed once again.

So let’s see where the year has taken us and see if we can discern workplace trends for 2024.

Key Takeaways

  • The pandemic reshaped workplace attitudes, highlighting the benefits of remote and hybrid work while challenging traditional office-centric beliefs.
  • Big businesses’ push for in-office work clashes with employee preferences, sparking debates about productivity and work attitudes.
  • AI integration continues to impact employment, with tech layoffs and discussions around the role of AI in the workforce.
  • The tension between employee preference for remote work and employer insistence on office presence reveals a disconnect in workplace expectations.
  • The frontline workforce’s need for flexibility is often overlooked, emphasizing the importance of tailoring options to diverse employee demands and fostering an inclusive work environment.

Workplace Trends 2024: What We Expect

Big Business Pushes for Return to Office, Defying Remote Work Trend

In recent months, we have witnessed the arrival of Artificial Intelligence (AI) — and big businesses demanding lazy workers back into the office.

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For example, VMWare was known for having a remote, working-friendly culture. But when Broadcom acquired the cloud computing company for a cool $69 billion, CEO Hock Tan didn’t waste any time demanding that employees return to the workplace.

If you live within 50 miles of an office, you get your butt in here.

In the UK, Lord Hague’s controversial opinion on the post-Covid work attitude in Britain has raised eyebrows. While he highlights a perceived reluctance among some Britons to return to work and put in the necessary hours, his assertion that this change is linked to laziness or a lack of motivation has sparked debate.

READ MORE:

Hague’s belief that obesity contributes to reduced workforce productivity may be considered contentious. But he didn’t stop there. His stance on the generosity of the furlough scheme and its impact on work attitudes adds further layers to the discussion. However, the debate surrounding these opinions underscores the need for a nuanced understanding of the challenges and opportunities in post-pandemic employment.

Workers Continue Navigating Layoffs and Economic Uncertainties

The surge in AI adoption has undeniably reshaped the future of the workplace, with profound implications for employment. The economic uncertainties of recent years have led to a wave of tech layoffs, with a staggering 96% of organizations having implemented some form of downsizing in the past year. This statistic serves as a stark reminder of the widespread impact of evolving economic challenges and shifting business strategies.

What’s even more telling is the prevailing expectation among employers, as we near 2024, that 92% of them are preparing for further headcount reductions. Klarna’s CEO, Sebastian Siemiatkowski, has ignited the debate by asking a crucial question: “Why hire dozens of people when one AI can do the job?”

This provocative inquiry underscores the ongoing transformation of the workforce, where the integration of AI continues to redefine the dynamics of employment and productivity.

Hybrid Work: Employee Preference vs. Employer Pushback

As CEOs attempt to claw back control from workers, there is evidence that remote work is here to stay as employees increasingly turn their back on companies that do not provide flexibility. For example, Amazon’s strict return-to-office (RTO) policy has recently backfired, sparking huge resignations.

An additional policy in July required some corporate staff to relocate. CEO Andy Jassy’s insistence on office presence at least three days a week led to more resignations attributed to the RTO policy, citing issues like poor communication, forced relocations, lack of respect, inadequate planning, and recent layoffs. This mirrors the broader debate on return-to-office mandates in today’s work environment.

READ MORE: Return to Office Mandates Are a Big Mistake – Here’s Why

Despite the strong preference among 68% of full-time workers for hybrid work schedules, 90% of companies are pushing ahead with plans to implement return-to-work policies by the end of 2024, highlighting a stark disconnect between employee desires and employer demands. But according to Stanford economist Nick Bloom, there is some good news for workers in 2024 by declaring the concept of a total “Return to Office” is dead, regardless of in-person mandates.

In a digital world where C-Suites embrace data-led decision-making, many leaders ignore the data around their workforce. A recent survey revealed that 56% of professional workers insist on flexibility when considering their next job opportunity. Unfortunately, for employers, this means top talent will not be rushing back to their cubicles anytime soon.

The Unseen Majority: Prioritizing Flexibility for Deskless Frontline Workers

Many of the articles in our newsfeed are guilty of focusing solely on remote and hybrid work models for over-privileged office workers. Contrary to the current narrative, 80% of the global workforce is deskless. Frontline workers are often overlooked from the conversation on flexible working arrangements and are left feeling undervalued and overworked.

Deskless workers from hospitality, healthcare, retail, and manufacturing are the vital cogs that keep the wheels of the economy turning; their absence would bring numerous essential services to a standstill. But

Frontline workers prefer choosing their workdays, increased vacation time, and a four-day workweek, challenging employer misconceptions about their preferences.

When working out the future of remote work, it’s essential to remember frontline workers. To truly optimize engagement and retention among frontline employees, leaders must listen to their unique flexibility needs, recognizing that a relaxed dress code may not be as crucial as more time off, even surpassing the appeal of a shorter workweek. This data underscores the necessity of tailoring flexibility options to meet the diverse demands of the frontline workforce.

The Evolution of Work: Reimagining the Employee Experience

The one thing that office and frontline workers will agree on is that the employee experience is now a premium currency. Surprisingly, many organizations lack dedicated roles to curate and enhance this critical aspect. Leaders must seize the opportunity to immerse themselves in the employee perspective, understanding how their workforce perceives their roles and contributions.

By doing so, they can dismantle barriers and cultivate a culture where every employee feels valued. Furthermore, the modern employee values more than just a paycheck; they prioritize their mental, physical, and financial well-being. Companies offering avenues for employees to thrive in these areas will stand out.

Ultimately, the key to success lies in leaders providing engaging and authentic experiences while aligning benefits with their workforce’s genuine needs and values, ensuring a harmonious and productive workplace for all.

The Bottom Line

In 2024, the workplace will be marked by an enduring struggle between employers advocating for in-office attendance and employees seeking flexibility. The challenges that arose in 2023, such as strict return-to-office (RTO) mandates and a lack of supporting data, will persist. Some organizations may reconsider their RTO policies, leaving workers who have adjusted their lives for remote or hybrid work in a state of uncertainty.

Flexibility will remain at the forefront of workplace discussions, with a strong demand for part-time schedules. Both employees and employers will increasingly embrace hybrid and flexible work arrangements, allowing desk workers to balance their professional and personal lives while enabling candidates in physical presence roles to explore additional part-time opportunities.

The traditional 5-day workweek will continue to be a subject of adaptation. Companies will grapple with the intricacies of remote work and dispersed teams, resulting in variations in the number of in-office days. Some organizations will lean towards a 0-day model, while others will maintain a more traditional four to five days in the office. But, employees will actively search for careers that enable them to work from anywhere.

As the year unfolds and the workplace trends reveal themselves, the workplace will undergo further transformations, necessitating adaptability from employees and employers as they navigate evolving dynamics.

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Neil C. Hughes

Neil is a freelance tech journalist with over two decades of IT experience. Celebrated as one of LinkedIn's Top Voices in technology and recognized by CIO Magazine and ZDNet for his influential insights, Neil has contributed to publications like INC, TNW, TechHQ, and Cybernews while also hosting the popular Tech Talks Daily Podcast.