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Why mandate a return to the office? Evidence shows the benefits of flexible work arrangements

Datum:11 december 2023
Auteur:Burkhard Wörtler
Why mandate a return to the office? Evidence shows the benefits of flexible work arrangements
Why mandate a return to the office? Evidence shows the benefits of flexible work arrangements

Flexible work arrangements that allow employees to work remotely several days a week have gained significant momentum in recent years, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Noticeably, organizations are increasingly demanding a return to the office [1]. This appears to be a reversal of the movement towards greater workplace flexibility. The question is, is limiting employees' freedom to decide where to best do their work the right move?

Relaxing the constraints of employees working exclusively at the organization's premises has reshaped the landscape of work. Empirical research shows the benefits of providing flexibility, such as enhancements in desirable employee attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction) and organizational performance [2, 3].

But, with the passing of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are now citing equally compelling reasons to call their employees back to the office [1]. CEOs argue that in-person interaction promotes creativity, collaboration, and the ability to connect with colleagues. They also emphasize the importance of personal camaraderie and mentorship opportunities. These elements are best achieved when employees are physically present in the office.

On the employee side, many endorse the opportunity to work remotely, appreciating its benefits such as reduced commute times and improved opportunities to manage their work-life balance [1]. Therefore, there is a discrepancy between what employers want and what employees value.

The delicate balance between employees' desire for remote work opportunities and managers' preference for on-site presence can create tensions within organizations. While some companies assert that in-person work is crucial for collaboration and knowledge sharing, evidence indicates that flexible work arrangements are essential for achieving positive outcomes for both employees and organizations. A rigid return to the office does not seem to be a sensible strategy.

Practical implications

·        A key takeaway for organizational practices is to recognize the significance of providing employees with flexibility in their work locations and understanding how to leverage this for mutual benefit.

·        While in-person collaboration remains crucial, companies should aim for a balance that aligns with organizational goals and the well-being of their workforce. This is especially important considering that employee stress "has become one of the key challenges facing organizations" [4].

·        Instead of strictly adhering to a rigid divide between on-site and remote work, companies can benefit from seamlessly blending both in an optimal way. Decisions about the work location could be made flexibly based on employee and company needs, mitigating the disadvantages of a solely remote work setup and reflecting a thoughtful strategy [5].

·        Ultimately, companies should base decisions on their own objective data, such as production and absenteeism rates, longitudinal analyses, and results from surveys on employee attitudes. This ensures that the chosen working arrangements are well-informed and aligned with the needs of both the organization and its employees.


[1] Christian, A. (2023, February 07). The companies backtracking on flexible work. BBC.

[2] Chatterjee, S., Chaudhuri, R., & Vrontis, D. (2022). Does remote work flexibility enhance organization performance? Moderating role of organization policy and top management support. Journal of Business Research, 139, 1501–1512.

[3] Chen, Y., & Fulmer, I. S. (2018). Fineā€tuning what we know about employees' experience with flexible work arrangements and their job attitudes. Human Resource Management, 57(1), 381–395.

[4] Podsakoff, N. P., Freiburger, K. J., Podsakoff, P. M., & Rosen, C. C. (2023). Laying the foundation for the challenge–hindrance stressor framework 2.0. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 10(1), 165–199.

[5] Van Yperen, N. W., & Wörtler, B. (2017). Blended working. In G. Hertel, D. Stone, R.

Johnson, & J. Passmore (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of the psychology of the Internet at work (pp. 157–174). Wiley-Blackwell.

About the author:

Burkhard Wörtler (b.wortler is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Human Resource Management & Organizational Behavior, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Groningen. His main research interests center around sustainable work performance and flexible work arrangements.