Resisting the Return to Work; What is the “New Normal”?

As we have come out of the Covid-19 Pandemic, more and more companies are requesting employees return to the office in the name of productivity. The problem is that many employees aren’t interested. Why are we struggling to return to the office and what is the new normal that can be created out of this? Can employers offer perks that will change the mind of the workforce? Read on as we investigate this topic.

Tradition vs. the New Normal

Many employees believe that there is no real reason behind the request to return to work. In fact, after a poll of over 2,000 full time employees (done by Owl Labs), it found that 69% believe that companies are requiring in office work simply due to traditional expectations. This belief is significantly related to the lack of enthusiasm for returning to the office. Between this and a new generation of employees entering the workforce, there is a high focus among employees on flexibility in both work hours and location.

The request for flexibility puts employees at odds with companies that are ditching hybrid work all together and requiring all workers to return to the office. The good news is that Owl Labs found that many employees would feel better about returning to work if CEOs would make a few tweaks to certain requirements. So, what are the top requirements employees are asking companies to make concessions on?

Top Two Pain Points for Employees:


After working for months or years at home, many employees have found that they can be as productive in jeans as they can in a suit. Employees are placing a high emphasis on flexible dress codes, saying they would feel far more inclined to go into the office if they could dress comfortably.

Overall, many companies are letting go of a strict formal dress code, preferring to allow employees more flexibility and comfort on most days. There are times when the boss will request a specific type of wear for an event, but these days have become more of the exception than the rule. Only a decade ago, you could be sent home for wearing denim to the office, now it has become common. While formal dress will never completely go away as it is a symbol of power and authority, it seems that more and more companies are acquiescing to flexible dress in the office.


In addition to a dress code, employees are commenting that the commute is another factor in the return to the office. Owl Labs found in their survey that on average, workers spend $51 per day on commuting, between purchasing food, fuel, parking, etc. This translates to over $1000 per month; money that no one was spending during the pandemic. This does not include the average half hour that employees spend commuting to work, which adds up to 10 hours per month spent in a car or other vehicle. This is a lot of time and money to spend going to a location that was deemed unnecessary only a year ago.

To make amends with this, employers are working to create flexible schedules with employees and allow work from home days where they can. While working in the office is important to create community among a company, employers are aware that not all work must be done in a cubicle. Employers are slowly becoming aware of the time and financial costs of commuting and many are willing to adjust. In fact, in job postings, flexible hours and work from home benefits have skyrocketed as a benefit listed to potential employees.

The New Normal?

As the job market begins to stabilize after the Covid-19 pandemic, many employees and employers are looking to establish a new normal. While it’s clear that most employees are unwilling to return to the strict standard of the pre-pandemic workplace, employers are requiring them to return to the office in some way. Many employees look at the return to work as a cling to an outdated way of working, while business owners look to establish company culture through face to face meetings. Establishing new standards will be the responsibility of both CEOs and workers. Through compromise and flexibility, we all need to work together to create what the office will look like in the future.


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