The great remote work migration has officially ended. Now, after a year and a half of remote and hybrid work for most organizations, business leaders around the world are prying those office doors back open in preparation for the return to office. Regardless of where in the world you spent these past 18 months, you and your job were impacted in some form or another by the pandemic and subsequent shelter in place orders. And while that transition to remote work way back when was a universal one, the return to office could not be more specific to each organization or even individual team.

Seemingly every organization is taking a different approach to the return to office. Some have announced that they will offer remote work to all of their employees in perpetuity, others vehemently disagree and are requiring their workforce to return in-person. The majority of the world lies somewhere in between—  occupying a vast, flexible middle ground rich with infinite variations of hybrid work policies.

Naturally, your organization’s approach to the return to office will depend on your existing company culture. If yours has always been a company that prioritizes individual employee freedom, then your company leaders will likely allow employees to work in the location that matches their comfort level or preference. If you work for an organization that has a history of playing hard and fast by classic business rules, then you may find yourself returning to the office full-time by winter. 

And what about vaccine passports for businesses? No organization could have foreseen the need to draft a policy regarding their stance on requiring or not requiring them a year ago, leaving many business leaders looking around at their industry for some signs of how to proceed.

Regardless of where you live and work (in an increasingly remote world, those two things could be as far away as on different continents) the time for navigating the return to work has arrived. Let’s take a look at how organizations around the world are navigating this return.

Embracing Hybrid Work Around the World

Regardless of the language being spoken, the word on the tip of everyone’s tongue as the world discusses the upcoming return to office is: hybrid. In a study conducted by Barco that surveyed employees spanning four continents, it was found that only 15% of employees wanted to continue working from home full-time in a post-COVID-19 world. And while many employees were thrilled to be working remotely for a while at the beginning of lockdown restrictions, the enthusiasm for full-time remote work has waned drastically with nearly half of those surveyed agreeing that they enjoy working from home less now than they did back then. 

However, this global disinterest in full-time remote work doesn’t mean an embrace of fully on-site work. Instead, employees around the world are growing increasingly vocal about their desire for a hybrid workplace model. Hybrid work is no brand new idea—  employees have been working in flexible schedules and splitting their time between the company’s offices and their home workspace for a while now—  but it is the natural middle ground for those organizations with a mix of employees who thrive both while producing on-site work and when working remotely.

Primarily, what employees asking for a hybrid workplace model want is increased flexibility. With hybrid work comes the ability to work remotely part of the time, more employee independence, and the option to work on schedules that better fit the individual lifestyle of employees— as opposed to the (barely) old fashioned notion that all employees are capable of performing in the same locations, at the same times, and in the same ways.

According to the aforementioned Barco report, the world-wide ideal hybrid workplace model sees employees spending an average of 3 days working on-site and up to 2 days a week working remotely. Let’s take a look at a few more numbers, to see how individual countries and regions feel about hybrid work:

  • United States employees are above average when it comes to wanting full-time remote work, with 40% saying that they prefer to continue working from home full time.
  • 43 out of 50 of the biggest employers in the UK have announced that they do not plan on bringing their workforces back to the office full-time in the future.
  • In order for them to feel prepared working from the office, 1 in 3 employees believe that their employee needs to invest in better video conferencing technology. (Which comes as little surprise once you realize that 1 in 3 employees uses video conferencing platforms every day.)
  • 89% of European companies plan on having a hybrid workforce post-pandemic, with only 11% expecting employees to return to the office full-time. 
  • 92% of European organizations are exploring progressive post-pandemic workplace policies.  
  • Many European companies are already finding success with hybrid work, with 62% of European business leaders reporting that hybrid work makes companies more profitable.
  • But how exactly does hybrid work increase profits? 56% of leaders say that it’s due to the wider talent pool offered when you allow remote work and 49% say that increased profits come from lessening their real estate costs.
  • For companies pivoting to hybrid work, how are they determining just how hybrid these policies are? So far, 31% of European business leaders say that they won’t enforce any set number of days for employees to be in the office.


Remote Work Isn't Going Anywhere

Although this data may suggest that hybrid work is universally beloved, that doesn’t mean a disappearance of fully remote companies. On the contrary, as early as May of 2020 some of the most dominant organizations in the world announced that they would allow their employees to work from home in perpetuity. Back then, Twitter made headlines when they announced that, “Opening offices will be our decision, when and if our employees come back, will be theirs.” 

Soon after Twitter’s announcement, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook expects as much as 50% of their employees to be fully-remote in the next five to ten years. This announcement was followed quickly by popular messaging app Slack announcing their own indefinite work from home policy.

At the time of these announcements, it appeared as though these tech giants were simply making a decision that prioritized the health and safety of their employees. However, now in our second year of navigating COVID-19 restrictions, it has grown increasingly clear that remote work isn’t just the safe alternative to working on-site, but for many employees and companies it is also the more productive choice.

Of course, the decision to allow for remote work depends on the specific job requirements employees are expected to fulfill and should be made with the employee’s best interests in mind. If any degree of remote work is in the cards for your organization, you’ll need to create policies to guide the transition. To get you started, here is The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Remote Work, Flexible Schedule, and Working from Home Policies [+ Templates].

Vaccine Passports: Who is requiring them?

As we arrive at the end of July 2021, an estimated 13.9% of the global population has been fully vaccinated— if you’re doing the math, that’s 3.93 billion doses that have been administered— and with the arrival of vaccines has come one of the most hotly debated factors of the return to work movement: vaccine passports

They’ve arrived and business leaders around the world are left trying to decide whether or not to require them. Some leaders are questioning if requiring vaccine passports for the return to work is ethical, while others are wondering if it’s legal for them to require their on-site employees to get vaccinated (the answer is yes). 

Some organizations are enforcing this requirement sooner rather than later. Just last month, 153 employees of Houston Methodist Hospital either resigned or were fired after they lost a legal battle against their employer’s vaccine requirement. Additionally, Goldman Sachs announced that they will be requiring all 40,000 of their employees to disclose their vaccination status with the company, even though they aren’t enforcing a vaccination mandate.

In total, 44% of U.S. employers have announced that they have plans to require all of their employees to get vaccinated before they return to the office. To do so, 65% say that they plan to offer incentives to employees on the fence about vaccinations and a total of 63% will require proof of vaccination.

So, how is the rest of the world responding to vaccine passports? When it comes to enforcing vaccine passports, Owl Labs research found that 1 in every 4 of European business leaders say that they will be enforcing vaccine passports for employees who wish to return to the office in any form. In line with this average are the UK and Nordic business leaders, with 23% and 21% respectively saying that they will also be enforcing the use of vaccine passports.

Even more adamant about requiring proof of vaccination is Germany, with 31% of business leaders saying that they will require vaccine passports. On the other side of the argument is France, who is taking a more relaxed approach to vaccine passports with only 19% of business leaders saying they have plans to enforce vaccinations.

Whether or not your organization is embracing all the hybrid world has to offer or embracing fully remote work, it’s clear that the future of work is more flexible than ever before. For all the insights you need to make the best return to office decisions for your organization, check out these 45 Key WFA & Remote Work Statistics for 2021.

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