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Delayed again: Are we ever returning to the office?

August 13, 2021, 12:30 AM UTC

Recently Amazon announced it’s postponing its corporate office reopening until at least 2022. They aren’t alone: Employers, including Fortune, across the globe are delaying back to office orders as the Delta variant continues to wreak havoc. 

It begs the question: The longer companies wait to bring staff back, does it make it less likely they’ll even want to return?

To help get a sense of how people’s attitudes towards work are changing, Future Forum, a consortium backed by Slack, gave Fortune Analytics exclusive access to their recent survey of more than 10,000 knowledge workers or skilled office workers from around the world.

The numbers to know 

24%

  • … of knowledge workers would prefer to be in the office five days per week. When Slack asked that question in December, the result was 17%.

14%

  • … of knowledge workers would prefer to be fully remote. When Slack asked that question in December, the result was 20%.

19%

  • … of knowledge workers over the age of 60 want to be fully remote. Among workers age 18 to 29, that figure is just 10%

31%

  •  … of knowledge workers over the age of 60 want to be in-person five days per week. Among workers age 18 to 29, that figure is 19%

The big picture

  • Hybrid is going to win. That has been Fortune Analytics’ stance for quite some time. This data reinforces that point of view
  • As the pandemic lingers, more workers want to get back to the office. Since December, we’ve seen a +8 percentage point uptick in workers who want to return to the office. During that same period, we saw a -6 percentage point decline in workers who want to be fully remote. 

A few deeper takeaways

1. Hybrid is still the No. 1 choice 

Even before the Delta variant threw a wrench into companies’ back-to-work plans, it was looking like the five-day in-person workweek was going to die. Or at least be optional. Again, Slack found there is a clear majority across the globe favoring a hybrid workweek. Among global knowledge workers, 26% favor 3-4 days in-person, while 23% say 1-2 days in-person per week.

Simply put, all signs still point to the hybrid workplaces as the new normal.

2. Young workers want it all 

Young professionals—in this case workers age 18 to 29—are the least likely to want to be fully remote. Just 1 in 10 want a fully remote job. They must be eager to get back to the office? Well, not exactly. Workers age 18 to 29 are also the least likely to say they want five days per week in the office. The vast majority of these young folks want a hybrid role (71%).

The younger generation’s overwhelming embrace of a hybrid model adds to the list of reasons why Fortune Analytics is so bullish that this trend will accelerate.

(I’d love to hear your thoughts on this particular chart. Feel free to email me at lance.lambert@fortune.com). 

3. We miss each other

Among workers who want to return to the office, 33% cite collaborating with their coworkers as the No. 1 reason. That’s followed by 25% who selected camaraderie with fellow coworkers. 

What’s also telling is what they didn’t cite: Productivity or performance. It’s pretty clear people want to return for the people—not because of the work. 

I’d love to know what you think of the newsletter. Email me with feedback at lance.lambert@fortune.com.

Lance Lambert
@NewsLambert

*Methodology: The Future Forum Pulse survey was conducted among an audience of 10,447 “knowledge workers” or “skilled office workers” in Australia, France, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States. 

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