Image: GettyImages/Ezra Bailey

After a year of remote work, companies are starting to bring employees back to the office. Amid the rise of the Delta variant, shifting public health guidelines and plateauing vaccination rates, office reentry presents myriad unknowns for companies planning and deploying infrastructure to support on-site and remote workforces. On Thursday, GlassDoor published the results of a recent survey highlighting employee sentiment about remote work, office reentry concerns and more.

“Right now we’re experiencing a second Great Transition as companies and employees navigate how to transition mentally and physically back to the office,” said Glassdoor career expert Alison Sullivan. “Just as everyone had to adjust to working remotely, teams should expect a transition period as people navigate and adjust to coworkers who want a hybrid, remote or full-time return to the office.”

Remote work drawbacks and reentry

Overall, the survey was conducted from July 8 to 12 and involved more than 1,000 employed U.S. adults. The vast majority of respondents (96%) are planning to “return to the office in some capacity” and 66% said they “are eager to return,” down from 72% who were eager about reentry in April 2020, according to a GlassDoor. Reasons employees were eager to return to the in-person workplace include “socializing with coworkers” for 43% of respondents followed by “in-person work collaboration” (35%).

Interestingly, these preferences have changed a bit since April 2020. Last year, respondents listed “increased productivity” (53%) and socializing with coworkers (60%) as the top reasons remote workers were particularly eager to return to in-person work, per GlassDoor.

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Without the happenstance encounters of the office, casual watercooler conversations and more, remote work lacks many of the social interactions inherent in traditional office work. As we’ve previously reported, many professionals report that working from home has reduced internal and external networking opportunities and harmed their career progress, according to a Blind survey published last fall.

The GlassDoor survey illustrates similar sentiments. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, 27% of respondents said they “feel less connected” to coworkers and the company’s culture (26%) and 31% said they were “more likely to quit.” About one-third of employees (30%%) said they believe remote work “on an ongoing basis would negatively impact their ability to get a promotion,” per GlassDoor.

Workplace anxieties and office perks

In recent weeks, companies have started to bring employees back to the traditional office, among varying levels of enthusiasm after a year of remote work. Amid surging cases around the U.S., the rise of the potentially more transmissible Delta variant and plateauing vaccination rates presents no shortages of office reentry challenges.

During office reentry, 35% of respondents said they were “concerned about contracting COVID-19” and similar numbers of respondents were anxious about “touching things that other people have touched” (32%) and “knowing whether to shake hands, fist bump or touch elbows” with coworkers (30% ), per GlassDoor.

“What the survey shows is that while people are eager to see their coworkers and redevelop old routines after so much time away, there is still keen attention to prioritizing health and safety too,” Sullivan said.

The GlassDoor findings also identify a number of on-site perks that could sweeten the deal during office reentry. Respondents said they’d be “more likely to return to the office” if they had access to certain free “office-based perks” including food and drinks (38%), transportation to the office (32%), massages (28%) and “access to alcoholic beverages during or after work” (21%).

Hybrid work models and IT challenges

Even as companies usher employees back to the office, many executives are preparing for a hybrid workforce in the future. In March, 77% of survey respondents said their workforce will feature a hybrid work model in 12 months, based on “information currently available,” according to LaSalle Network’s first Office Re-Entry Index. The same number of businesses said they were “planning a hybrid office for the future,” according to the second index installment published earlier this month.

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The switch to remote work at scale presented no shortage of challenges for IT teams looking to secure operations as employees log on from their home networks and at times on their personal devices. During the switch to remote work, Stuart Downes, Gartner senior research director, said IT teams “rose to the challenge” by accelerating “existing initiatives to improve security, device management,” leveraging DaaS solutions and more.

“The good news is that technology has made the past year and a half of working from home manageable, and these tools will help employees and employers manage the transition into this next phase of work,” Sullivan said.

Compared to the switch to remote work, office reentry does not “bring the same challenges but still requires planning,” Downes explained. At the moment, the majority of IT teams are still functioning in a “remote-support model, even for staff who are back in the office,” Downes said.

“IT won’t know where any user may be working on any given day due to hybrid working patterns, the need to self-isolate or lockdowns. IT must still plan to deliver support remotely while providing covid-safe in-person support when necessary,” Downes said.