Who’s going to win the return-to-office battle?

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After the pandemic wound to a close, employers began pushing employees to return to the office. Fifty percent of U.S. employers issued a full or hybrid RTO mandate in 2022 and 2023, and almost all employers planned implementing an RTO mandate before the end of 2024.

Employers perceived, and many experienced, benefits from implementing RTO mandates. According to ResumeBuilder’s survey of employers who instituted RTO mandates, 81% reported improvement in productivity and 72% reported improved revenue.

Except employees pushed back — and employers conceded. According to recent reports, only 4% of U.S. CEOs intend to prioritize a full-time return to the office. H&R Block already completely reversed its RTO mandate.

What caused employers to reverse course? One factor is employee determination to keep the schedule flexibility and commute-free existence they prize. Many employers bowed to the combination of employee demands and recruitment and attrition challenges that resulted from RTO mandates. Here are the facts:

• When given the opportunity for remote work, 87% of employees took their employers up on the offer.

• Nearly half of surveyed job candidates won’t apply for a job that doesn’t offer a hybrid or fully remote schedule.

• When looking for a new job, 41% of the candidates surveyed said they’d consider a fully remote job, a higher percentage than those who would choose a hybrid schedule. Only one out of every 10 respondents voted for a schedule requiring them to work four days each week in the office.


• Some employers have learned they can swap pay for flexibility. 42% of office workers would accept a 10% pay cut if offered remote work.

76% of surveyed job candidates said they’d actively search for or be open to a new employer if their current employer rolled back flexible work policies.

42% of employers that have mandated return to the office have experienced higher than normal employee attrition while 29% of such firms report they find it hard to recruit top talent.

• A January 2024 survey of 3,000 job candidates reported that their employer’s RTO mandates influenced 36% of senior-level job seekers to leave their jobs.

Have employees won the work-from-home battle? No. They often find it challenging to find jobs and risk being the first to be chopped when employers cut their ranks.

Recent searches in two job categories revealed that only 4% of available HR jobs and 9% of posted marketing jobs offered remote work.

According to the Wall Street Journal, fully remote employees were 35% more likely to be laid off in 2023 than their in-office counterparts.

Why? Many employers still prefer employees working on-site. Additionally, an interesting new survey reveals many employees want to work from home for reasons their employers fear. According to’s latest survey, 72% of employees seeking remote work want the freedom to nap or exercise during the day, and 73% want to watch television while working and 75% of surveyed employees seek remote work to be able to remain home with their pets.

What will be final outcome of the RTO battle? It’s uncertain, but one conclusion is clear. The genie’s out of the bottle and some employees won’t return willingly to the office.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Beating the Workplace Bully" and “Solutions,” and Submit questions at or follow her on, or @lynnecurry10 on X/Twitter.