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Bosses are winning the return-to-office battle—but it’s not over yet

September 19, 2022, 7:08 PM UTC
A group of office-workers sit at their desks
Office workers are back. It's too much for some employees and not enough for some employers.
Morsa Images—Getty Images

In the constant tug-of-war of the office return, it seems that bosses are back with the upper hand.

More workers were in the office last week than they have been since the pandemic started, per Kastle Systems, a data property management and security firm that tracks key-card entries. While office attendance isn’t where it was before the pandemic, it’s getting there: Kastle found that nearly half (47.5%) of workers who were in the office in 2020 before the shutdown were in the office from Sept. 8 to Sept. 14. That’s a record high over the past couple of years as white-collar workers settled into their home offices and adjusted to newfound flexibility.

But after this past Labor Day weekend, many employers drew a line in the sand and ushered their employees back to their desks. With the coronavirus seemingly here to stay and the severity of the next variant unknown, companies like Apple, Comcast, and Peloton have mandated that workers return to the office on a hybrid basis in yet another push for a sense of workplace normalcy.

The middle of the week is most popular among workers back in office. Kastle’s data shows that about 55% of the pre-pandemic workforce returned to the office on Tuesday and Wednesday last week. That might be because of the midweek office perks, such as office lunches and catered meals

Solidly in their career, many millennials are taking the morning train in larger swaths. Only 43% of 30-to-40-year-olds have been working from home for the majority of their workweek in September so far, according to Bank of America’s recent survey in its Home Work series. 

But office attendance still isn’t near the 100% some managers are pushing for. Hybrid work remains a fixture of the workforce; data from Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis of WFH Research found that employers have increased the number of days they’ll let their employees work remotely. Bosses may have a leg up now, but workers are still benefiting from the newfound leverage they acquired during the Great Resignation. 

And not every boss is excited about the return-to-office push from their companies; younger managers are often more understanding of employees looking to hold on to their new normal. Even so, high-profile CEOs and bosses have blamed remote work for everything from a supposed lack of productivity to inflation. Control remains important for managers, with some now turning to productivity software to monitor what workers are doing on their work computers while working from home.

Even if productivity isn’t an issue when working remotely, some bosses are still a little obsessed with a return to the office.

“They don’t know any other way,” Brian David Johnson, an author and professor, told Fortune. “You don’t go tell Steph Curry, ‘You should really stop shooting threes.’”

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