Work From Home or Return to the Office: Which Work Model is Best For Your Business?

April 15, 2024

To work from home or not to work from home? That is the question that many businesses are currently struggling with. And it doesn’t help that employees and employers are often at odds about the question of remote work.  

Remote work is becoming more popular, even without a pandemic. McKinsey recently conducted a study where they polled a representative sample of job holders in the U.S. The study showed that 58% of job holders from the sample say they can work remotely at least part-time. The sample included job holders from industries that are not able to support remote work, like construction. 

Furthermore, 87% of employees who are given the option to work remotely take up that offer, pointing to a general trend of employees wanting to work from home. When polled about what their motivation is for finding a new job, the desire for hybrid or remote work ranked as the third most common motivation to find a new job.  

Employees want to continue the pandemic trend of working remotely at least part of the time, but what do employers want? A recent survey by Resume Builder showed that 9 in 10 companies will return to the office in 2025, and 28% of employers indicate that they will fire employees who refuse to come back to the office.  

What should companies do to balance employee desires to work remotely with a push to return to the office? Read on to learn about the pros and cons of remote work vs. return to the office, why a hybrid work model isn’t always the solution, and how you can decide what work model is best for your company and employees.  

Why Employers May Want to Return to the Office 

Employers want to retain talented employees, which means seriously considering what’s best for employees. So why are employers hesitant to allow remote work when employees prefer it?  

Some Roles Are Best Done in the Office  

Some roles in some industries are technically possible to be fulfilled remotely, but they add challenges. For example, healthcare roles can technically be done remotely, but require a lot of added technology to comply with HIPAA laws.  

Customer-facing roles may have gone remote during the pandemic, but employees and employers both report struggles with doing the job effectively on a remote basis. Hearing or seeing a pet or child on a call is okay during an internal work meeting, but is unacceptable during a customer call. Most employees lack the ability to completely remove the potential for these distractions during calls.  

It’s Easier to Manage In-Office Work 

Employers and managers have a myriad of responsibilities that include answering to stakeholders, fostering a healthy company culture, and generating a profit that facilitates continued employment.  

Remote work can present challenges to achieving these goals. With less oversight typical in remote work, employers can find it more challenging to assess employee productivity and efficiency.  Productivity tracking tools like mouse tracking don’t always help – employees often chafe at what they view as micromanaging tools, and can find ways to make it look like they are being more productive than they really are.  

Collaboration is Easy In the Office 

Collaboration and communication can also be more challenging in remote work, especially for teams that work closely with one another. It takes a lot longer to coordinate everyone’s schedule to get on a Zoom call and talk about a project review than it is to gather everyone for a quick chat in the conference room.  

Effective collaboration, communication, and employee oversight is possible, but it requires a larger managerial lift and a certain amount of trust in employees. That’s not always possible for businesses.  

Employers Can Save Money By Going Remote 

Despite the negatives, remote work can also help employers save money. The biggest cost savings is on real estate. With employees working remotely, there’s less of a need for expansive – and expensive – office space. With remote work, employers aren’t limited geographically, and can recruit from a larger talent pool. They also don’t have to necessarily meet the cost of living salary expectations of a specific city, since their employees can live in any city.  

The biggest positive that remote work has on employers is generally more productive and happier employees.  

Why Employees Prefer Remote Work  

Overall, employees love working from home because of the flexibility and work-life balance it gives them. A recent Stanford study showed that working from home increased productivity by 13%, and reduced employer attrition – good news for employees and employers alike.  

Work From Home May Increase Productivity 

So why does working from home increase productivity and lead to a better work-life balance? 

For one, there are simply less distractions than there are in the office. When employees work from home, they’re less likely to be distracted by “water cooler talk”. Even taking 5 minutes to talk to a colleague about the weather can distract employees, and getting back into focus isn’t always easy. A 2020 survey from Airtasker showed that remote employees spent 30 minutes less a day talking about non-work topics. Without these in-person distractions, employees are able to focus on getting their work done faster.  

It’s important to note that while working from home may increase productivity for some, for others it has the opposite effect. Some employees may lack the self discipline to get work done without obvious oversight, and may find being in the home environment more distracting than the office.  

Remote Work Supports a Flexible Schedule 

Remote work is often paired with flexible schedules – as long as the work gets done, remote workers are less tied to working specific hours. This allows workers to design their schedules for maximum productivity.  

For example, a worker who has young children at home may be most productive when their children are at school or daycare, whereas another employee might identify that they concentrate best first thing in the morning. With remote work, both employees can schedule complex tasks when they are most likely to be productive, which in turn increases efficiency.  

Not all roles are able to support a flexible schedule, however. For customer-facing roles, employers need to ensure that their employees are available to answer phones and emails during work hours.  

Cutting out the daily commute can save many workers as much as a full day’s work in a week. This gives remote workers more time for healthy morning routines, time with their family, or simply more time throughout the day to take breaks.  

Remote work can increase productivity and lead to a better work-life balance, but there are some downsides. Employees report that working from home can be lonely, feel less collaborative, and lack mentoring opportunities.  

Remote Work Can Feel Lonely 

Employees who thrive in social situations may find remote work to be lonely. When working in the office, it’s easy to say a quick hello to a colleague, or to chat over lunch. Some employees find that digital equivalents, like using Slack to chat, are poor replacements for in-person interactions.  

In addition, teams that work closely with each other may find it harder to collaborate effectively. When working in the office, teams frequently work in the same space or brainstorm together which in turn facilitates collaboration. While there are some great digital collaboration tools out there, it requires intentional effort to set up effective digital collaboration. 

Remote Work May Reduce Mentoring Opportunities 

Another potential downside of remote work can be a lack of mentoring opportunities. Because remote workers have less interaction with management, they must be proactive about seeking out mentoring opportunities. This can be especially challenging for new employees or entry-level employees that typically need more oversight and mentoring.   

While many remote workers report an increase in work productivity, others may find it harder to concentrate when working from home. Employees that are more prone to procrastination may prefer the external structure and oversight office work brings.  

Fully remote work has its downsides for employees and employers alike, which is why some employers are considering a hybrid work model to maximize the positives and negatives of both work from home and in-office work.  

Is a Hybrid Work Model the Answer? 

A hybrid work model blends remote work with in-office work. In this work model, employees typically split their week between working from home and working in the office. For example, Tuesdays and Thursdays could be “in-office” days, while employees are allowed to work from home the remainder of the days.  

Is Hybrid Work the Best of Both Worlds? 

New research indicates that hybrid work is on the rise. Despite this, employees who work from home only part of the time indicate that they would prefer to work at home more often.  

On one hand, hybrid work has the potential to be the best of both worlds. Employees can work remotely part of the time, which can improve productivity and better work-life balance. Employers can also manage teams better with more in-person touch points.  

On the other hand, hybrid work can highlight the negatives of both in-office and remote work. Employees may feel disconnected from colleagues on remote days, and feel like they’re wasting time and money commuting into the office.  

There Should be a Reason to go Hybrid 

A hybrid work model is best when done intentionally, to address specific shortcomings in both in-office and remote work models. In other words, there needs to be a real reason why employees must come into the office every week, and why they should work remotely the rest of the time.  

In-office time is best spent on meetings, brainstorming, updates, and milestone communication. Remote work, on the other hand, is best spent on finishing tasks necessary to move a project forward.  

Every employer must decide for themselves what work model works best for their company – remote work, in-office work, or hybrid work.  

How to Choose the Best Work Model for Your Company 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the remote vs. in-office puzzle. Every company is different, and the best solution you can find balances business demands with employee preferences.  

Think Strategically About What’s Best For Your Company 

It’s important that your work model policy comes from a place of knowledge, problem-solving, and strategy.  

Are you keeping employees remote because it seems easier and less expensive than renting office space? Ask managers and team leaders what they think about collaboration and mentorship. Is there any room for improvement?  

Or are you pushing a return to the office because you assume that employees will be more productive and motivated in the office? Ask your employees what they need to do their best work.  

Your Work Model Should Address Current Challenges 

Another starting point is identifying the current challenges your company has when it comes to communication and productivity. Think critically about how changing your work model may help address those problems. If communication and collaboration is the problem, is returning to the office the only option? Or is it possible to implement digital tools that facilitate better remote collaboration?  

If productivity is the issue with remote work, is adding more oversight tools the answer, or can you improve how you communicate expectations with your employees?  

Partner With Commonwealth to Support Your Work Model  

Whether you decide on a remote, in-office, or hybrid work policy, a strong human capital management solution can help keep everyone on the same page.  

Commonwealth Payroll & HR offers comprehensive payroll, employee time management, and benefits tools that grow with your business. Our digital solutions make it easy for employers to manage payroll processing, employment tax management, and more – even if you’re working remotely.    

Contact us to learn more about our Human Capital Management system and customizable plans 


*The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information is for general informational purposes only. Information in this article may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. This article may contain links to other third-party websites provided only for the convenience of the reader. 

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