RTO v WFH – A Game of Tug O’ War

Recently, in conversations with various CEO’s or industry colleagues (who know my keen interest in all things offices), there is a new hot topic – RTO.

I am asked what I am hearing “out there” about similar challenges being faced by companies getting staff to Return to The Office (RTO). Comments like;

“Hey James – Have you heard what any of our competitors are doing on this? I’m struggling”

“Hey James – Did you hear what Elon Musk said – I wish I had the guts to say that”

Most of the people I interact with are of a certain vintage. The working week to us was always 9-5 Monday to Friday….and show up at your office….all of the time.

I believe that among certain CEO’s and business owners of this vintage, there is an unspoken undercurrent of palpable frustration at their inability to attract staff back into their office/desks on a more regular basis.

One CEO told me “It can feel like a resistance movement at times and I need to tread carefully but it’s like the tail is wagging the dog”.  Another said that their highest level of attendance in the office post-Covid coincided with the day they informed staff that anyone who came in would be treated to lunch on the Company.

Nuts stuff – or is it? There are learnings in all of our new working experiences during Covid. Now that it is in the rear view mirror, the return of the old school ways are being resisted (rightly so, in some cases) by employees who now have a greater choice in a talent starved marketplace.

The benefits of Working From Home (WFH) have been well documented and most agree that some form of hybrid working model is here to stay. Indeed, the 4-day working week is now being formally trialled to gather data on productivity etc. However, the post Covid, no restrictions, fully operational economic environment, has now become somewhat of a battleground between the office and the home.

Frustrations are evident in certain quarters, but surely this is THE opportunity to have a mature and healthy debate on the issue.

Against this backdrop, I thought it would be useful to share some data gathered from studies in the UK and the USA. Hopefully, this information will be helpful to both employer and employee, and common sense will prevail in whatever version of work applies to you.

Management v Staff

  • 50% of leaders say their company plans to require full time in-person work.
  • 52% of Gen Z and millennials are likely to change employer this year.
  • 43% of leaders say relationship building is the greatest challenge in a remote/hybrid work model.
  • 53% of employees now (post-Covid) prioritise health and wellbeing over work.
Source: Microsoft 2022 Work Trend Index Annual Report

 Some of the world’s best known brands have communicated to their staff on this issue

London Employee Survey

  • 61% working from home at least 1 x day per week.
  • 56% believe management want more staff back in the workplace.
  • 73% believe we’re never returning to the previous way of working.
  • 84% believe WFH 1-2 days per week improves quality of life.
  • Overly negative view formed on how their managers feel about WFH or there is an inconsistent approach to WFH by management.

Source: Kings College London Policy Institute and Business School

Return to Commute (RTC) is what Workers Really Hate!

The same research above found that people’s love of WFH is not solely driven by a hatred of the office – most London employees still feel good about being in their regular workplace in the city…it’s the journey there that’s the issue. Avoiding commuting is seen as the top benefit of WFH (80%).

In the USA, the WSJ reported that among the 10 cities with the biggest pandemic related drop in office occupancy levels, 8 had an average commute time pre-Covid of more than 30 minutes. Contrast this with the 10 cities which experienced the smallest decline in office occupancy, 6 had an average commute time of less than 30 minutes.

Myth Buster  – Productivity Levels & WFH

  • David Powell, President of Prodoscore said their data showed that if an employee was highly productive in the office, they will be as productive at home. Conversely, if an employee slacked off at the office, they will do the same a home.
  • “After evaluating over 105 million data points from 30,000 U.S.-based Prodoscore users, we discovered a 5% increase in productivity during the pandemic work from home period.”
  • Two studies in early 2022 validated the views of remote/hybrid work advocates.
  • Research from Owl Labs found that remote and hybrid employees were 22% happier than workers in an onsite office environment and stayed in their jobs longer.
  • Working from home led to better work/life balance and was more beneficial for the physical and mental well-being of employees.
  • A further study from Ergotron sampled 1,000 full-time workers. It found that the hybrid workplace model has empowered employees to reclaim physical and mental health benefits.
  • Remote employees lost 27 minutes per day on distractions v 37 minutes per day for office workers.
  • Managerial distraction is less of an issue with WFH saving up to 32 minutes per day.

Myth Buster – WFH = Total Happiness

  • According to one study, WFH employees work 1.4 days per month more than their office-based counterparts = 3 x weeks per year!
  • 29% WFH employees struggle with work-life balance with 31% saying they needed time off for mental health issues.
  • Difficult to maintain relationships with co-workers if WFH.


We must be careful not to forget the inefficiencies that the Covid pandemic helped identify in the old working environment. Debate is always healthy as long as it is balanced. However, I get the sense from both sides that the scales may not be resting at equilibrium.

Employers have companies to run and profits to make to ensure their employees have jobs. However, it is antiquated to continue to push an old school agenda (of 9-5 Monday to Friday full time office) where other solutions are available and proven to work.

Employees also need to understand the employers perspective and the value and efficiencies of being in a collaborative office environment.

While efficiency should beat presenteeism in the new working world, there is a balance required. Mature and open dialogue will help, however right now it seems that a meeting of the minds has not yet taken place.


James Mulhall shared his insights on that all important return to office and the impact that is having on the industry on Newstalk. – Click Here to Listen to the Podcast

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