When Covid-19 cases in the U.S. began a sharp decline earlier this year as initial vaccination efforts took off, many remote workers were eagerly anticipating a return to the office, if only for a few days a week.
With the resurgence of the virus — and the highly transmissible delta variant — that enthusiasm is starting to wane, according to a survey by GlassDoor, an online job and recruiting site.
To be sure, a vast majority (66 percent) of employees in the U.S. have positive sentiments about returning to in-office work. But that’s down from 72 percent of workers in April, when virus cases were dropping.
The study found that about 90 percent of workers are worried about returning to the office and about a third (35 percent) are wary of contracting Covid-19 there.
Among other virus-related office issues, 32 percent are worried about touching things that other people have touched; 30 percent are concerned about knowing whether to shake hands, fist bump or touch elbows with others and a fifth (19 percent) worry about not having a permanent desk at the office.
Despite the health crisis, 96 percent of employees plan to return to the office in some capacity, as many have struggled with working remotely, the study said.
A lack of connection
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the shift to telecommuting, 27 percent of employees feel less connected to colleagues, less connected to their company’s culture (26 percent) and more likely to quit their jobs (31 percent), according to the report.
At the same time, 30 percent of employees are worried that working from home on an ongoing basis will hurt their ability to win a promotion.
“After more than a year of remote work, people are returning to the office feeling less connected with coworkers and their employer,” Alison Sullivan, Glassdoor’s career trends expert, said in the study.
“We know career opportunities, company mission and culture keep employees satisfied at work, she added. “Having a strong company culture can help employees navigate their new setup, whether they go back full-time or navigate a hybrid work life. Employers who make their workforce feel connected are going to have an easier time recruiting and retaining workers.”
For many remote employees, the lack of connections has taken a toll. The main reason they want to return to the office is to resume in-person socializing with coworkers (43 percent), while about a third (35 percent) miss in-person work collaboration, the survey found.
“A variety of emotions”
“While we’ve adapted many aspects of work to remote settings, there are some experiences you can’t replicate at home,” Sullivan said. “The return of spontaneous brainstorming sessions or hallway hellos are social aspects that make work more enjoyable and fulfilling. People are eager to socialize more with colleagues they’ve seen only on a screen in the last year and eager for the return of familiar perks that accompany the social side of office life.”
While the continuing Covid-19 pandemic is employees’ main concern regarding resuming in-person work, employees also are worried about having to resume their commute (35 percent), having to make themselves look presentable (30 percent) and a lack of privacy at work (19 percent), GlassDoor reported.
“Many people are experiencing a variety of emotions about returning to work, including lingering concerns about health and safety,” Sullivan said. “People are also navigating the more normal jitters of commute logistics and ‘what will I wear today,’ along with the excitement to see teammates. It’s like the first day of work, all over again.
“Employers and coworkers alike should practice empathy and understanding as everyone adjusts in their own way to going back to the office,” she added. “Employers who solicit feedback from their employees before the return are going to have a better time building a reentry plan that best addresses their concerns, needs and expectations.”
The survey was conducted online from July 8-12, 2021, among 1,042 employed adults in the U.S., of whom 278 are currently working from home full-time because of the pandemic.