Harvard future of work professor: RTO mandates fell flat because workers value flexibility over pay

At Harvard’s Future of Business conference on Thursday, Harvard Business School professor Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury told attendees he was there with a mission: to make the compelling case for flexible work and to teach to leaders how to effectively leverage a work-from-anywhere model.

Choudhury, a long-time supporter of flexible working, kicked off his presentation with hard data from Kastle Systemsa building research and safety company, and WFH Research, a leading research group. Offices in the United States have stabilized at around 50% occupancy over the past two years. The percentage of remote work days for the entire population has remained at around 30%, compared to 5% before the pandemic. This represents a six-fold increase, he noted, “and the trend line appears to be very stable.”

And this despite all the bosses’ efforts to finally escape the trend and repatriate workers, whether they like it or not. These surges reached a fever peak around Labor Dayas they usually do, while many large American companies have drawn a line in the sand by mandating a handful of days a week in the office – or else. But according to weekly office occupancy data from Kastle Systems, there was no bump to speak of for Labor Day.

“Every Labor Day we have a big back-to-power campaign,” Choudhury said. “But the figures for the overall economy seem stable.” Indeed, surveys show that workers are generally willing to sacrifice 5% to 7% of their total compensation in exchange for the ability to work flexibly, he explained. “It’s a phenomenon that will continue, because individuals are demanding it. »

That may be an understatement. Workers across all sectors have made it clear, to varying degrees, that while their work is possible remotely, they are extremely reluctant to come into an office. After all, working from home means less costs; more time to sleep, exercise, socialize and bond with family; And not having to move– even if it means forgoing the team bonding, career development and mentoring that working in person makes it easier.

Indeed, despite the current context cost of living crisisnearly two-thirds of workers would be willing to take a pay cut to be able to work remotely, according to a FlexJobs survey from last month. Seventeen percent of those surveyed said they would give up 20% of their salary, and one in ten said they would give up more than 20%. The majority of respondents to this survey said remote work trumps salary, work-life balance, or a boss they can tolerate. “The lack of remote work options is a significant reason why people leave their jobs,” Keith Spencer, a FlexJobs career expert, wrote in the report.

To that end, offering flexible work arrangements is a talent strategy, Choudhury said. “If you don’t implement it, it will be much more difficult in today’s economy to attract and retain diverse talent.”

Balancing flexibility and isolation

If flexible working – with employees leading the charge on their own schedules – is the solution, it leaves bosses in a bind, Choudhury added. A typical middle manager must meet the demands of executives who want full offices, while allowing younger workers some autonomy.

Many professionals have general recommendations on how to handle it. Flexible work arrangements are best achieved with a “curated hybrid” plan, according to Nick Bloom, a Stanford economist and remote work guru. said Fortune. That means clear orders from the top, plenty of room for customization, and intentional collaboration with team members on in-person days.

These in-person days do not need to be very frequent. Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox, said Fortune last month that his company’s approach – 90% remote, 10% in person – has been his best tool for retention and satisfaction. Bosses who insist on in-person work typically have to relinquish control, he advised, “and need a different social contract.” If you trust people and treat them like adults, they will behave like adults. Trust rather than surveillance.

But when it comes to assessing the optimal number of in-person days, even experts are often caught off guard. “I won’t pretend to know the answer: We need to study for years,” Choudhury said, while adding that recent research suggests that working in person between 23% and 40% of the time is ideal. “You’re in the best of both worlds when you balance flexibility and isolation.”

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