December 2, 2021

The Struggle is Real: Office vs. Virtual Work Debates Rage on

As organizations decide whether or when to bring employees back to the office, some companies are facing pushback from their staff. While there are many people eager to return to the workplace on a regular basis, others acclimated to the Work from Home and Work from Anywhere environments and are resistant to even hybrid work arrangements. Now employees who moved away from their place of work during the pandemic are questioning the expense to relocate if required to return to the office.

“…Across the country, employers are struggling with how, when and even if they will bring employees back to the office. In conversations with leaders at companies in a broad variety of industries — the people charged with making the ultimate call — the consensus was that there was no consensus…”
(The New York Times, November 14, 2021, “What Bosses Really Think About the Future of the Office,” by David Gelles)

woman reviewing charts on her laptop

So we asked Human Resources professionals whether their organization offered remote work opportunities during the pandemic, and if so, have they experienced resistance? Sterling Lexicon teamed with the RES Forum to survey companies to verify the resistance, and what – if anything – the company is doing to coax employees back to the office.*

Highlights from the survey include the following:

    • Only 18% of the respondents allowed Work from Anywhere while 40% did not, and another 42% offered other solutions. While many organizations supported Work from Home, Working from Anywhere is harder for companies to embrace.
    • Half of those surveyed expect their company to require employees to return to the office. Another 39% specified they were already operating in a hybrid mode for some employees.
    • Many who answered the survey indicated certain job functions are not suited to remote work, while several respondents said specific circumstances influenced the decision pertaining to individual employees. Most organizations (60%) have already assessed job responsibilities to determine who can continue working remotely and which employees would be asked to return on a hybrid schedule or must fully return to the office.
    • While local regulations have prevented a full return to the office in some instances, less than half of the respondents have encountered push-back from employees.

Half of participants believe the “war for talent” is influencing resistance to return, but many pointed out there could be a combination of reasons driving employees. Human resources teams think about a host of issues when introducing retention initiatives, including:

    • Despite the unease about returning to the office and whether employees will opt to look for work elsewhere, 81% of respondents indicated financial incentives would not be offered, though in-office activities such as free lunch or raffles may be used to remind employees “…the office can be fun…”
    • Other suggestions included offering behavioral preparedness and coaching sessions with mental health professionals, and one company recommended a retention bonus.
    • Maintaining equity among employees is a concern with respect to incentives, which is why any incentive would be made at an “office level” rather than by individual.
    • Most organizations (70%) did not provide any assistance to employees who opted to move, except for expatriate employees who wanted to return home because of conditions in the host country.
    • No organization in the survey reported offering relocation benefits to entice employees to return.

I think a number of things are influencing the resistance, including the war for talent. But if employees successfully performed their jobs from home for 18 months, what is a valid argument for insisting they come back to the office?


As many respondents in the RES Forum survey indicated, companies are not offering relocation benefits as ways to coax employees back to the office, rather they are looking at more traditional approaches to mitigating the war for talent. Organizations are expanding the list of voluntary benefits as part of their total rewards strategy, which could include hospital indemnity insurance, pet insurance, and/or financial planning. Even as vaccination rates increase, some companies are embracing virtual work and abandoning physical office space while other organizations are adding flexibility with a hybrid schedule. Compensation and Benefits teams may start looking at varying salary based on where the employee resides, rather than where the “job” is located.

We expect more organizations to review and potentially augment their benefit offerings with more traditional methods. Some companies are taking a fresh look at office space and how to reconfigure it for optimal use and it appears most organizations are building hybrid solutions. In addition, we recommend expanding employee eligibility for affinity programs that offer valuable relocation assistance, such as Home Rewards Concierge, at no cost to the employer. Our program includes the selection of thoroughly vetted real estate agents coupled with the expertise of a concierge who will guide the employee through all phases of the home sale or home purchase process.

Be confident that you are up to date with the latest research and peer data - book a call with us for a more in-depth look at the resources available through our subject matter experts and Sterling Lexicon’s partnership with the RES Forum.

* Sterling Lexicon teamed with the RES Forum to survey companies on return to office plans. Forty-five companies headquartered in the U.S. (9), Canada (2), EMEA (25), and APAC (4) from a wide array of industry sectors responded to the survey open from August 13 – August 31, 2021. Please note not all 45 respondents answered every question.

About RES Forum
The RES Forum is an independent, highly engaged, and international community of senior in-house international HR professionals, with more than 1,600 members in over 45 countries. The agenda, set entirely by members, is delivered through a spectrum of services, including data analytics, global mobility and international HR thought leadership and advanced learning and accreditation programs in global mobility management.


Leah Johnson

Leah Johnson

Leah Johnson is Sterling Lexicon’s Director, Client Solutions, and has worked in the global mobility industry for more than 20 years. She has held management positions in business development, operations, account management, and consulting, and had the opportunity to live and work in Tokyo and Hong Kong for six years. She initiated destination services in Hong Kong for a relocation management company and directed global mobility for Goldman Sachs in the APAC region. She graduated from Colgate University, earned an MBA from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and maintains a Senior Certified Professional (SCP) certification from SHRM.

Related Posts