Conflicting views: why the return to office is proving so hard

Despite sharing the same organisational goals, when it comes to making decisions on whether to stay at home or return to onsite work, employers are from Venus and employees are from Mars

With so much time spent together every day pursuing the same goals, you’d reckon that well-intentioned employers and their employees should think about returning to onsite work in much the same way.


The people who write out the pay checks and the people that cash them have different perspectives on working in the office and working at home. Their views are diametrically opposed. Here’s how.

Return to office: employer view

Key arguments for returning to onsite work from an employer’s perspective include:

  • Ability to provide employees with the sorts of workplaces that will optimise their professional performance, as individuals and in groups, and that align with their culture.
  • More successful group sessions to resolve complex, strategic issues.
  • More potential spontaneity in work activities (research to date indicates that online activities/meetings reduce this).
  • Development of inter-employee bonds.
  • Greater employee attachment to the employer organisation.
  • Reduced potential corporate liability for ergonomic or health problems caused byworking conditions in home offices.
  • Opportunity to potentially increase employee health via good-for-you snacks, worksite exercise facilities, etc.
  • Probably easier direct supervision of employees.
  • Ability to signal to employees that their contributions to organisational success are respected and valued via the workplace. Similarly, ability to signal to prospective employees ‘how things get done around here’.

Return to office: employee view

From an employee’s perspective, key arguments for returning to onsite work include:

  • The ability to work in locations that meet their professional needs (if their corporate offices are appropriately designed)—many people find it difficult to work at home because of various distractions.
  • Potential participation in successful group sessions to resolve complex, strategic issues (from which promotions and increased responsibility as well as financial rewards can follow).
  • Maintaining (and establishing) social relationships with colleagues.
  • Effective mentoring.
  • Opportunities for informal learning about colleagues, company culture, practices, etc.
  • A clearer separation between work and professional life.
  • Bolstering economic conditions near offices: onsite workers purchase lunches and other services near their employers’ offices; if employees are not onsite there can be economic hardships for the people selling those services which can ripple through entire communities.

Working at home: employer view

Key arguments for employees working at home from the employer’s perspective include:

  • More flexibility to hire employees living anywhere on the planet – this might provide access to skills not available in the local market and lower personnel costs. Organisations that help employees get visas to work in the US, the UK, or other countries could also no longer need to do so.
  • Probably less real estate will need to be rented/owned, which can save money. Also, as staff are hired or fired. there are no time lags between making a change in personnel and physical office reconfigurations.
  • Lower travel expenses—there may be fewer people travelling to attend regional or national or international meetings. Similarly, there are much lower meeting-related costs generally if even local groups do not gather.
  • It might be cheaper to provide some services (such as IT support to workers) via a single crew (who may or may not be company employees) through a central location instead of at each work site (this sort of service may already be consolidated or outsourced).

Working at home: employee view

From an employee’s perspective, key reasons for staff to work at home include:

  • If their onsite workplace does not align with tasks they need to perform, for example, those requiring concentration/focus, employees may actually be able to work better at home, depending on the resources at their disposal at their homes.
  • Employees doing tactical sorts of rote solo work may find themselves at optimal stimulation level for work at their home if their home environment is relatively active.
  • More control over their workday (probably, they can decide to exercise during the day).
  • Ability to help manage household during workday (can make sure kids doing their homework, can let in person fixing water heater, etc.)
  • No need to spend money on outside-the-home lunches or as much on work outfits or car wear-and-tear.

The most positive approaches to future work recognise and respect the issues raised by both employers and employees about working onsite and working at home. To succeed, organisations are now required to find a way to reconcile very different perspectives.

For more information on creating a successful hybrid experience, read Frankie Wallace’s article here.

Sally Augustin is a practicing environmental design psychologist and editor of Research Design Connections, based in Chicago. She provides regular scientific commentary for the Academy’s Innovation Zone on new academic research in work and workplace.
Find exclusive content in the


Premium content for Global Partners, Corporate and Community Members.
The latest analysis and commentary on the future of work and workplace in five distinct themes: Research & Insights, Case Studies, Expert Interviews, Trend Publications, and Technology Guides.