June 25, 2024

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

2 min read

At Harvard’s Future of Business conference on Thursday, Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, a professor at Harvard Business School, told attendees he was there on a mission: to present the undeniable business case for flexible work, and to instruct leaders on how to effectively pull off a work from anywhere model. 

Choudhury, a long-time proponent of flexible work, kicked off his presentation with the hard data from Kastle Systems, a building security and research firm, and WFH Research, a leading research group. Offices in the U.S. have stabilized at roughly 50% occupancy over the last two years. The percentage of remote work days for the entire population has held at around 30%—up from 5% pre-pandemic. That’s a six-fold increase, he pointed out, “and the trendline seems to be very stable.”

That’s despite bosses’ best efforts to finally shirk the trend and yank workers back in, whether they like it or not. Those pushes reached a fever pitch around Labor Day, as they usually do, when many major U.S. firms drew a line in the sand mandating a handful of days per week in the office—or else. But per Kastle Systems’ weekly office occupancy data, there was no Labor Day bump to speak of. 

“Every Labor Day we have a big return-to-office push,” Choudhury said. “But the numbers in the overall economy seem to be stable.” That’s because surveys show workers are generally willing to sacrifice 5% to 7% of their total compensation in exchange for the opportunity to work flexibly, he said. “This is a phenomenon that will sustain, because individuals are demanding it.”

That may be an understatement. Workers across industries have, in varying degrees, made clear that if their job is remote-capable, they’re hugely resistant to going into an office. After all, working from home means fewer costs; more time for sleep, exercise, socializing, and family bonding; and not having to commute—even if that means giving up the team bonding, career…

Jane Thier

2023-11-12 09:00:00

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