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Flexibility Is the Name of the Game For Hybrid Workers This Year

Videoconference tech company Owl Labs has released its 2023 State of Hybrid Work report and boy is there a lot to cover. When Fortune wrote it up a few days ago, one item they chose to highlight is how much it’s costing workers to be back in the office: the average is $51 a day, $71 a day for workers with pets.

The total, says Owl Labs, breaks down as follows:

  • $16 – Lunch
  • $14 – Commuting costs
  • $13 – Breakfast/coffee
  • $8 – Parking
  • ($20 – pet care)

Employees who work a hybrid schedule, the company says, spend just $36 per day.

Keep that in mind for later. There are two things we’re going to highlight. If employers internalize nothing else from the report it should be this:

One theme that has remained consistent over the past three years is flexibility. Americans are embracing flexible work – and they want more of it. The data has shown (again) that employees feel more productive, balanced, and loyal to their companies when they have it. Many employees will make sacrifices in order to achieve flexibility in where they work, as 62% would take a pay cut of 10% or more, and 4% would quit their job if they were no longer able to work remotely or hybrid.

Now the important bits. First, compensation is top of mind for workers surveyed. Shocking. Alas, we feel compelled to highlight it here anyway for the sake of any leadership that may be lurking on these pages who need to be told repeatedly that compensation is very, very important. As you can see from the chart below, only 1% said compensation/salary is not very important and more than half (54%) ranked it as very important.

screenshot of survey results for what employees care about most
Employees’ most important work factors from the Owl Labs 2023 State of Hybrid Work report

While we’re here let’s talk about supportive managers. 84% of women ranked a supportive manager as important or very important, compared to 87% of men and the older you are, the more important a supportive manager is. 77% of Gen Zers said a supportive manager is important or very important compared to 90% of boomers. Across the board, remote workers need a supportive manager more than office workers, 92% of them said it’s important or very important while 84% of office workers said the same.

Now let’s discuss flexibility. Almost one in four workers surveyed (23%) switched jobs in 2023, down from 29% in last year’s survey. If you’re in the office full-time you’re 44% more likely to have changed companies than hybrid workers, a stat Owl Labs says is “interesting” but really seems sort of obvious given worker attitudes toward full return-to-office.

From the report:

The reasons they changed jobs or are actively seeking new opportunities have remained pretty consistent year over year. This year, the top reasons – tied at 47% – are for better compensation and a better work/life balance. We also learned what would cause them to not accept a new job offer and (maybe unsurprisingly) the top reasons are: if a company requires specific days in the office, also known as a structured hybrid approach (40%), and doesn’t allow for flexible working hours (40%). What employees want is for employers to show them the money, drop the strict working hours, and give them flexibility. Job seekers highly value having autonomy over where and when they work – so companies offering flexible working hours (among other things) will come out on top.

Despite compensation always being a leading factor when it comes to talent retention and prospecting, we learned that employees are willing to take pay cuts for flexibility. 1 in 4 workers (25%) would take a 15% pay cut to work a 4-day work week, and the same percentage would take the same pay cut for flexible working hours – which were more popular options than sacrificing pay for a better health insurance plan (24% would take a 15% pay cut for that). Nearly a fifth of those surveyed (17%) would take a 20% or more pay cut to have a flexible working location or work fully remote.

Asked what size pay cut they’d take in exchange for certain benefits 17% of respondents would be fine with a 15% pay cut in exchange for working fully remote.

screenshot of survey results for worker willingness to take a pay cut
Worker willingness to take a pay cut in exchange for flexibility from the Owl Labs 2023 State of Hybrid Work report

Guys (and gals), DO NOT take a pay cut for the privilege of working remotely. As mentioned above, working in-office is costing on average $51/day ($71/day for pet owners). If you’re working five days a week in-office and fortunate enough to have a cheap dog walker that’s a mere 20 bucks a day that’s $1,420 a month, $17,040 a year (going by 20 days a month average). For non-pet owners or those with cats who conveniently shit in a box that’s $1,020 a month, $12,240 a year. Salary is only part of the picture and leadership knows it.

According to KPMG’s recently released 2023 CEO Outlook survey, 87 percent of CEOs say they are likely to reward employees who make an effort to come into the office with favorable assignments, raises or promotions. If they want you in the office so bad make them work for it.

Workers aren’t entirely opposed to returning to the office though, some just mistrust their companies when it comes to hybrid work. 53% say it’s likely that their employer will change their remote or hybrid work policy in the next year. Another 16% are feeling unsure, a 45% jump since 2022. No wonder since many employers have reversed their positions on remote work in the last two years.

From the report:

Though employees are skeptical about the rationale of why they have to be in the office, it’s important to note that the story isn’t that all employees are reluctant to go to the office, they just think the office works better for some tasks than others. 38% of hybrid workers say the office works best for meeting new people, 30% say it’s best for team meetings, and 28% prefer it for collaborating. They shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other – if productivity remains the same or increased, employees should have autonomy on where they spend their time working. In fact, 90% of hybrid workers said they feel equally or more productive when working in a hybrid format.

Interestingly, 80% of men agree that their company is requiring employees to work in the office because it is essential or more productive for their job function, compared to 47% of women.

In 2023, we have seen some companies doing their best to invite or entice employees to the office versus mandating it. What matters most to hybrid employees when it comes to returning to the office? Hint: it’s not only the snacks.

Companies paying for commuting costs (38%) is at the top of the list, followed by greater privacy at the office [e.g. dedicated offices, more phone booths] (34%), and having a way to know when people they want to see will be there (33%). It might be a good time to kill the dress code, as 1 in 4 (24%) said they would be enticed to go to the office if they were able to wear whatever they wanted.

And 28% of hybrid workers want daycare/eldercare subsidies or onsite alternatives if they’re expected to show their faces at the office more often.

There’s so much more in the report, check it out here. Both workers and employers might gain some insight from the results.