The return to the office is a mashup of rules, increasing stress and a desire for vaccine mandates

43% of workers are increasingly worried about being exposed to COVID-19 and contracting the virus, Envoy found in its latest survey.

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Less than a third of CEOs expect the majority of employees to work remotely 2-3 days per week.

Image: iStock/ nito100

A new survey finds that the return to the office is all over the place with stress levels rising along with the increase in COVID-19 cases. Envoy found in its most recent Return to Work survey that 45% of respondents didn't have a choice about going back. Seventy percent want a hybrid work option with only 12% preferring fully remote work.

There is still a Great Resignation vibe among workers as well with 26% saying they are more likely to leave their current jobs after returning to in-person work. Among people of color, that number is 33%. Gen Z and millennials are less likely than other groups to be looking for a new job. Millennials said that their mental health is better off when working in an office.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Forty-three percent of workers are increasingly worried about being exposed to COVID-19 and contracting the virus. Sixty percent of respondents would prefer to have vaccine mandates at work, but only 51% work at companies with this requirement in place. 

The top four concerns for workers going into the office are:

  1. Exposure to COVID and its variants:               46%
  2. Interaction with nonvaccinated coworkers:     30%
  3. Commute time and costs:                                30% 
  4. Limited flexibility to do personal activities:       29%

The survey included 1,000 full-time U.S. employees who are working from an office for at least one day per week. Envoy makes office management software for checking in visitors and reserving work spaces.

Companies that demand a return to pre-pandemic "business as usual" will fail, Larry Gadea, CEO and founder of Envoy, said in a press release. 

"COVID isn't going anywhere -- people need to know that their health is the top priority," he said. "Leaders need to ask the hard questions about what's working and what's not, and then begin experimenting with technology solutions that make the work experience better."

Gadea thinks that companies need to earn the return of employees to the office.

Gadea said the company uses regular employee surveys and weekly CEO Q&A sessions to keep track of how people are feeling about the pandemic and work.

"We also take into consideration geo-specific needs: SF does not necessarily need the same set of solutions as Kansas City," he said. 

Envoy reopened its San Francisco headquarters in June and employees can come in as often as they'd like or not at all. Gadea said between 20-30% choose to come in at least once a week. 

Gadea said that hybrid work has provided an opportunity to rethink daily operations. For Envoy, that includes making sure the workspace is a fantastic place to be which means better than everyone left it in March 2020. 

Gadea said Envoy has redesigned the physical workspace and the employee experience in these ways: 

  • Ensuring rooms are set up to make it easy to have a hybrid meeting 
  • Using Donut's Slack integration to encourage people to connect for virtual coffee chats and helps those who are remote feel more connected to what's going on in the workplace. 
  • Establishing a meeting charter and behaviors for making remote folks feel included
  • Rethinking large company events like the fall all-hands meeting

"Like most companies, we're all working hard to try to level the playing field, but it's not easy or obvious the strategies how," he said.  

More women than men--51% vs. 40%--said they had no choice about returning to the office. People who prefer in-person work said the biggest benefit is being able to keep work and home life separate. Gen Z workers see face time with managers as the top reason to be in person and white workers are more likely than Black and Hispanic colleagues to see face time as a priority (39% vs 29%).

Wakefield Research conducted the survey for Envoy during the second week of August via an email invitation and an online survey.

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By Veronica Combs

Veronica Combs is a senior writer at TechRepublic. For more than 10 years, she has covered technology, healthcare, and business strategy. In addition to her writing and editing expertise, she has managed small and large teams at startups and establis...