Spring has signaled the return of the commute as more companies call employees back to the office.
New numbers from Kastle, an office security firm that tracks key card swipes in thousands of commercial buildings, show that offices in the U.S.'s ten largest cities are about 40% occupied, up 15% from a year earlier. Companies such as Apple and Google began requiring most employees to return to offices on a hybrid schedule in April.
But companies demanding people back to the office could see more employees leave their jobs in the coming months, according to survey findings from the ADP Research Institute published earlier this week – and return-to-office mandates could especially drive younger employees to quit.
The report, "People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View", surveyed more than 32,000 workers in November 2021 from the U.S., India, the Netherlands and other countries.
Two thirds of the global workforce (64%) said that they have already, or would consider, looking for a new job if their employer wanted them back in the office full-time.
"Even a few years ago, the thought of working in a hybrid arrangement was – excuse the pun – remote to most people," Nela Richardson, the chief economist at ADP and co-author of the report, tells CNBC Make It. "But now it's clear that hybrid work and the desire for flexibility after two years of working from home is not going away – in fact, it's growing in momentum."
But when people ask for flexibility, the emphasis is less on location and more so on when – and how – they work.
"It's not just that people want to work from their houses – they might have spotty WiFi, and not everyone wants to stare at dirty dishes while they're trying to focus," Richardson says. "But people have gotten used to having more autonomy over their work the past two years, whether it's being able to pick their kids up from daycare or going to doctor's appointments without having to ask for time off."
Resistance to returning to the office full-time is even stronger among younger employees: About 71% of 18-to 24-year-olds said that they would consider looking for another job if their company insisted on them returning to the office full-time, compared to 61% of 35- to 44-year-olds and 56% of 45- to 54-year-olds, the report found.
Some workplace experts have argued that remote work is failing young employees without explaining why they're not showing up to the office in the first place.
Remote work feels more natural, and less intimidating for young employees, Richardson explains, because they've grown up with technology. It's embedded in their social fabric, their school curriculum, their hobbies.
That's why companies need to "move beyond catered lunches and ping pong tables to get young people back to the office," Richardson adds. Instead, managers need to focus on creating an engaging office environment where employees can get valuable mentorship from higher-ups and participate in team bonding activities with their co-workers.
"There's a new need for companies to evolve because of this tight labor market," she says. "Employees need to feel like they're personally benefiting from waking up earlier and commuting to the office – that it's really worth it, or they'll leave."