The Office - Will it Make a Comeback?

by Irina G. Balashova, CPA, CIA, CFE, Forensic Resolutions Inc.  – September 16, 2021
The Office - Will it Make a Comeback?

Recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are continuing to strive toward normalcy. One aspect of this is the renewal of working arrangements, which has turned out to be a complicated and divisive issue.

According to Best Practice Institute’s 2021 Return to Work Study, more than 83 percent of CEOs expect employees back in the office in 2021, but only 10 percent of employees want to return to the office on a full-time basis.

Benefits of Working from Home

There are many reasons why employees are reluctant to return to the office full time.

  • No daily commute. No extra time is taken up in the employee’s day for the simple purpose of getting to the office, which often also encompasses added stress related to traffic.
  • Physical comfort. One can work from the kitchen or bedroom, wearing favorite sweatpants and enjoying customized climate settings. (Remember those office problems of coworkers being too hot or too cold?)
  • No office distractions. There are minimal interruptions to workflow and impediments to productivity that often occur in the office environment: chatty coworkers, conversations near the coffee machine. As to productivity itself, a study published in the Harvard Business Review shows that those employees who have managerial responsibilities spend extra time doing additional work while working remotely.
  • Better family connections. By freeing up more family time between clocking out and kids’ bedtimes, evenings can be more relaxed as employees have the option to start dinner earlier or run some errands during the day.
  • Cost savings. No commute means no fuel purchases or maintenance expenses for vehicle owners and no fare costs for those who use public transportation.

Employers enjoy their own business-related benefits when their workforce remains outside the office setting: the overhead may be lowered, health risks are avoided, accommodations can be provided with ease to those who need them, and the talent search is no longer limited geographically, to name a few.

Benefits of Working in the Office

The above benefits notwithstanding, the office provides an ideal work environment and is still considered the default option for conducting business.

  • Access to resources. Even though the laptop is a go-to tool that can be used to set up a remote working environment, workstations in the office encourage conversation and collaboration.
  • Interaction with peers. Peer communication eases the workflow and streamlines tasks. Being in the office may be fun, especially for those who are younger, do not have a significant other or children yet, and have become, frankly, bored.
  • Efficiency. That missed phone call or overlooked communication can be avoided thanks to office resources and/or in-person interactions.

A Hybrid Approach

Compromise seems to be the most frequently implemented solution to the problem of going back to the office. Microsoft, a company of more than 160,000 employees, provides a roadmap of the future office environment and, among many others, stands by its hybrid work arrangements. This approach seems to be a much-needed solution when, according to their own research, 40 percent of the workforce wants to quit their jobs.

Millennials and the younger generation, Gen Z, lead the denial trend when it comes to returning back to pre-COVID arrange­ments. According to a May 2021 study from Citrix, 90 percent of respondents in this group are opposed to being in the office full time and instead favor flexibility, family time and work-life balance. This is an enormous contrast to the views of mature professionals and business leaders, where 60 percent favor an office-all-week schedule. These findings are confirmed by a January 2021 PwC US Remote Work Survey, which showed that 75 percent of executives anticipate that at least half of of­fice employees will be working in the office, but only 61 percent of employees expect to do so. These discrepancies are due to the various factors which still need to be sorted out, including transformation to a paperless environment, different views of meetings and collaboration, and new ways of interacting with clients.

Irina G. Balashova

Irina G. Balashova

Irina G. Balashova, CPA, CIA, CFE, is a senior associate with Forensic Resolutions Inc. She is a member of the NJCPA.

This article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.