How companies straddle the return-to-office debate

LinkSquares, a Boston-based startup, faced challenges in a five-day-a-week return-to-office schedule, highlighting the push-pull dynamics over office returns.

There is an ongoing push-pull between employees and managers over returning to the office, with neither side achieving clear dominance. The experience of LinkSquares, a Boston-based startup, exemplifies the intricacies of mandating a five-day-a-week office schedule.

LinkSquares Inc. is an employee contract lifecycle management provider that caters to in-house legal departments. Founded in 2015, it is growing rapidly, expanding to 430 employees. When employees started returning to the office once the COVID-19 pandemic receded, the company adopted a blend of remote and on-site work.

For instance, the engineering and product teams operated remotely, while some departments such as marketing wanted a hybrid approach. But just less than half of the company -- revenue and sales -- was in the office five days a week. The company's data showed in-office was better for hiring and training large volumes of sales reps quickly. The sales staff grew from 20 to 90 people in a relatively short period of time.

That hiring pace, specifically for new business sellers "who do a lot of cold calling and pitch work, drove us to be in the office," said Steve Travaglini, chief revenue officer at LinkSquares. But the company has since stabilized its hiring and is "now optimizing for retention and sustained performance."

After two years of five days a week in the office, burnout and attrition became issues, Travaglini said. Exit interviews and employee surveys indicated overwhelming support for a hybrid approach. Consequently, about a month ago, LinkSquares revised its policy and introduced a three-day-a-week hybrid schedule for its sales and revenue team.

The risk of return-to-office mandates

"I don't want to lose these amazing people that we worked so hard to recruit," Travaglini said. The retention issue also hurt productivity, and full-time in-office requirements made recruiting harder "when competitive companies were offering hybrid or fully remote," he said.

I don't want to lose these amazing people that we worked so hard to recruit.
Steve TravagliniChief revenue officer, LinkSquares

But something else has also happened at LinkSquares: The engineering and product teams were required to be in the office for only build planning sessions, held biannually. They are now seeing more engineers returning to the office more often, however, and it is starting to become more hybrid, without any top-down order to collaborate, he said.

According to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics this month, approximately 34% of U.S. workers worked in hybrid or remote work roles in 2022, a slight decline from 38% in 2021. Nevertheless, other studies showed a larger portion of the workforce operates remotely. For instance, data released this month by WFH Research said 12% of full-time employees worked entirely remotely, 29% followed a hybrid model, and 59% worked full-time on site. Researchers from Stanford University and the University of Chicago, among other institutions, formed WFH.

The real battle is over how much time employees should spend in the office, said Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, a telecommuting research and consulting firm.

She said employers continue to push for three to five days a week in the office, while employees continue to insist on three to five days at home each week.

Smaller companies see advantage

"Historically, the average for those who worked from home was 2.5 days a week, which is just about what we see now," Lister said.

While some tech companies want employees to return to the office and discontinue remote work, smaller startups -- especially in tech -- offer more flexibility in work options, according to Jim McCoy, senior vice president at ManpowerGroup, a multinational staffing and recruiting firm.

Companies that offer remote options can keep labor costs lower because eliminating the cost of a commute is "tangible dollars" for the employees, he said.

"Candidates are willing to sacrifice a little bit when it comes to pay or pay expectation, especially when they know that they're not going to be required to go into an office," McCoy said.

He added that the savings in office space will also help keep remote and hybrid work plans in place because otherwise, companies might "forfeit the savings of what they've been able to achieve with a lower commercial real estate footprint."

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget Editorial. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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