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Going Remote Happened Overnight. Return to Office Still Won't

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Image: Bobi Rival - Alamy Stock Vector
Working remotely has typically depended on two employer-led conditions: how open the employer was to someone working outside the office and whether the employer's need for an employee's specific service or skill was more important than the employer's location.
In 2020, when the world shut down, so many different industries discovered that a lot of jobs weren't reliant of being in a specific and dedicated workspace away from the house. And many workers discovered that working remotely gave them more hours — when you're not commuting, you can spend that time on other things. Workers had time to prioritize wellbeing. People began sleeping more, a New York Fed report that came out last week found. For a chronically under-rested country, this is a healthy step forward.
However, despite improved employee sentiment and positive health effects, some employers are still determined to return to something of a 2019, pre-pandemic status quo. For every article about how remote work has benefitted employees, there's another on employers mandating a return to office. For a while, it looked like the workforce might have the upper hand thanks to chronic talent shortages across multiple industries and employees' shifting relationship to their work, which thought leaders have labeled with everything from the Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting.
However, now that the same workforce is experiencing economic pressures to the point where even 49% of six-figure earners are saying they live paycheck to paycheck and a lot of companies have slowed hiring or begun laying people off, employers are betting they can push their employees back into an office.
WorkSpace Connect writer Ryan Daily was betting on this possibility six months ago. And it looks like it's happening — Bloomberg reports that remote job postings are on the decline, and USA Today has reported that the cooling labor market has made job candidates less picky about where they actually do their work, combined with employers pressing their advantage and being able to hold out for job candidates who are willing to work onsite.
A look at the numbers in the story shows that Americans aren't exactly throwing up their hands and resuming a commute — although the percentage of fully remote employees who said they'd find another job if they were asked to go back to the office full-time dropped by 5% from June 2022 to October 2022, 73% of fully remote employees still said they probably would find another remote or hybrid job. And they probably can — the job market is cooling, but it's not cold.
So, the tug of war between back-to-the-office stalwarts and a resistant workforce continues. What warrants further exploration is why this tug of war persists. It's a question that workplace leaders will most likely ponder as the year comes to a close — and one that'll surely influence their workplace strategies in 2023.

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