It’s hard to believe that Owl Labs has been at this for seven years now, launching a comprehensive survey each year where we analyze and understand the current state of work. In 2017 through 2020, in-office was the primary way to work. From 2020-2022, the world participated in a forced work-from-home experiment, introducing many to remote working. Today, flexibility reigns supreme and hybrid is what employees desire despite a majority of US employees having already returned to the office full-time (66% of those surveyed, to be exact).
One theme that has remained consistent over the past three years is flexibility. Americans are embracing flexible work - and they want more of it. The data has shown (again) that employees feel more productive, balanced, and loyal to their companies when they have it. Many employees will make sacrifices in order to achieve flexibility in where they work, as 62% would take a pay cut of 10% or more, and 4% would quit their job if they were no longer able to work remotely or hybrid.
Read on to uncover where the workplace is at versus 2022 and dive into the types of work that employees want or expect from their employers.
69% of respondents believe that their company is requiring them to work from the office because of traditional work expectations
23% of employees changed companies in 2023, and this was more common among full-time office workers (26%) than hybrid/remote workers (17%)
1 in 3 workers (33%) spend 31-45 minutes commuting one-way
Almost half (46%) of workers are “polyworking” with a side hustle or additional job, and a further 36% plan on starting one in the future
1 in 4 workers (25%) would be willing to sacrifice 15% of their annual salary for flexible working hours
More than half (58%) of hybrid employees “coffee badge” - also known as showing face at the office and then leaving
56% of workers said that their level of work-related stress has increased since last year
94% of workers say they could be convinced to come to the office
If no longer able to work remotely, 29% of hybrid and remote workers would expect a pay increase to make up for additional costs
Only 37% of employers have upgraded their video meeting technology in 2023
54% believe that business trips in their organization have returned to pre-pandemic levels
68% of managers believe that their hybrid/remote working employees are missing out on impromptu or in-formal feedback
80% of workers experience lost time due to technical difficulties during online/hybrid meetings
44% of workers said generative AI will help them do their job faster and more effectively in the next five years
64% of respondents feel that their company uses too many communication platforms
The current state of affairs
Every day it feels like a new term is introduced - from quiet quitting to office peacocking. Major companies have forced return-to-office mandates and then switched their positions after employee pushback. Other companies have implemented work-from-anywhere policies and seen reduced turnover. Some have tested the 4-day work week and saw an increase in productivity. It can feel impossible to keep up with the latest trends.
We came across some interesting trends in this year’s research. One is the concept of polyworking, describing when workers have two or more jobs. Our report showed us that almost half of employees (46%) have at least one additional job or “side hustle” outside of their main full-time job with an additional 20% saying they currently do not, but would like one. Think it’s a remote thing? Think again. Full-time office workers are more than twice as likely to have an additional job than hybrid and remote workers.
Another new trend is “coffee badging” - the act of going into the office to “show face” for a few hours and then leaving - which is more popular than one might think. More than half of hybrid employees (58%) have “coffee badged” with an additional 8% saying they haven’t but would like to try it.
The data also showed that 2023 became the year that employees went back to the office. Surprisingly - or maybe not - 66% of this year’s respondents say they are in the office full-time, however only 22% want to be. Business trips have also started to return to “normal” with 54% of workers saying that business travel has resumed to pre-pandemic levels.
Here’s the current lay of the (working) land and trends to know:
The in-office vs. remote work makeup shifted dramatically in one year. Those that were working fully remote are now in-office, with hybrid working staying consistent year-over-year.
3 days a week in-office seems to be the most popular working style for hybrid workers:
Now let’s talk about workers’ preferred style, compared to what their employer is mandating:
Do workers really have additional side hustles outside their main full-time job?
Who’s working overtime? Of the 46% of workers with at least one additional “side hustle”:
Men make up almost two-thirds of those workers with at least one additional job:
Of those that have at least one additional job, Millennials are leading the way:
Top reasons why workers have an additional job:
Many hybrid workers go to the office for just a few hours to show their face (i.e., "coffee badging").
Men tend to coffee badge more than women:
Among hybrid workers, 63% of Millennials coffee badge, compared to 54% of Gen X, 43% of Gen Z, and 38% of Boomers.
of workers said they would take a 15% pay cut to have a 4-day work week (8 hours/day).
61% of employees at larger companies (250+ employees) say their business trips have returned to pre-pandemic levels, compared to just 41% of employees at smaller companies (<250 employees).
Employees at larger companies
Employees at smaller companies
Commute times: one-way only.
Employees vs. Employers
Where is there alignment and where is there frustration? Last year was the year of the employee. They set the tone and expectations for hybrid working and employers had to shift policies to maintain employee balance, productivity, and retention. In 2023, there has been a global economic shift. With talks of an impending recession, budget cuts, and employee layoffs across all sectors - most especially tech - employers have returned to the driver’s seat.
We know that what employers mandate is not aligning with what employees want when it comes to in-office work (66% in-office is the employer-mandated working style vs. 22% employee’s preferred working style). What happens when these numbers don’t match? 1 in 3 workers (31%) said they would start to look for a new job, with 6% saying they would quit.
In this year’s research, we saw a slight shift in the top factors that matter most to employees - work flexibility jumped, along with access to good technology. We also found that 85% of respondents said the most important factor in an employee’s working life is a supportive manager. This was just behind compensation at 86%. We’ve seen this trend gain more traction in 2023, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Productivity is always a top concern when it comes to employers. This year’s data showed us that productivity has remained at an all-time high with 91% of survey respondents saying that they are the same or more productive in their working style.
Training and providing the right tools are key to workplace success. This year’s research showed us that employers are focused on more training for both employees and managers to create more productive working environments. In 2023, 63% of survey respondents said their company trained employees on how to hold effective and inclusive hybrid meetings and 62% said their company trained managers on how to manage remote/hybrid teams - an impressive increase from 2022 when we were at 54% and 50% respectively, but clearly there is still room for growth.
What would hybrid/remote employees do if their employers required them to come to the office full-time?
Among hybrid workers, 10% of women would quit if their employer required them to come to the office full-time without offering hybrid as an option compared to just 1% of men.
Companies and managers, listen up: good technology may be more significant than you realize with 83% of respondents saying this was important to them when working.
When asked what their most important factors in their work are, employees said everything from compensation to good tech.
A supportive manager
84% of women ranked a supportive manager as important or very important, compared to 87% of men.
The older the worker, the more important a supportive manager became:
The farther you work from the office the more important a supportive manager is:
Productivity is always a top concern when it comes to employers. Workers reported that their current working style makes them feel:
Only 28% of smaller companies (<250 employees) upgraded their video meeting tech in the last year, compared to 42% of larger companies (250+ employees).
30% of larger companies (250+ employees) expanded collaboration spaces, compared to just 24% of smaller companies (<250 employees).
Employee desires + demands
What’s driving employees to stay in their jobs or start looking elsewhere? Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) switched companies in 2023, compared to 29% in 2022. What’s interesting is that full-time in-office workers were 44% more likely to have changed companies than hybrid workers. And 23% of those surveyed have not yet changed companies but are actively looking to do so.
The reasons they changed jobs or are actively seeking new opportunities have remained pretty consistent year over year. This year, the top reasons - tied at 47% - are for better compensation and a better work/life balance. We also learned what would cause them to not accept a new job offer and (maybe unsurprisingly) the top reasons are: if a company requires specific days in the office, also known as a structured hybrid approach (40%), and doesn’t allow for flexible working hours (40%). What employees want is for employers to show them the money, drop the strict working hours, and give them flexibility. Job seekers highly value having autonomy over where and when they work - so companies offering flexible working hours (among other things) will come out on top.
Despite compensation always being a leading factor when it comes to talent retention and prospecting, we learned that employees are willing to take pay cuts for flexibility. 1 in 4 workers (25%) would take a 15% pay cut to work a 4-day work week, and the same percentage would take the same pay cut for flexible working hours – which were more popular options than sacrificing pay for a better health insurance plan (24% would take a 15% pay cut for that). Nearly a fifth of those surveyed (17%) would take a 20% or more pay cut to have a flexible working location or work fully remote.
When hybrid and remote employees were asked if they were no longer able to work remotely or in a hybrid format, what would they do? 4% would quit, 42% would look for another job with more flexibility in where and when they work, and almost 1 in 3 (29%) would expect a pay increase to make up for the additional costs.
Are workers looking to leave their jobs? In 2023, workers:
Why do workers seek a new job opportunity?
Working policies that cause workers to not accept a job offer:
Employers actively recruiting should consider that a flexible working arrangement – in both hours (34%) and location (33%) – are top motivators for workers seeking a new job. Respondents said flexible working location and flexible working hours were the most appealing benefits in a prospective employer, only behind better or more affordable health insurance, which landed in the top spot.
Other benefits included:
When asked if they were no longer allowed to work remotely or hybrid - now or in the future - hybrid and remote workers said they would:
When asked if they were no longer allowed to work remotely or hybrid now or in the future, female hybrid and remote workers (12%) were twice as likely as male hybrid and remote workers (6%) to say they’d stay but be less happy.
What size pay cut would workers take for key benefits?
The many degrees of hybrid
Hybrid working is nuanced with many layers. Hybrid can be hard, and when not executed intentionally it can be destined for challenges. When hybrid employees were asked why they think their company requires them to be in-office - almost 7 in 10 (69%) said because of traditional work expectations. Clearly, many employees are unconvinced or unsure about their company’s work policies.
We learned that employees don’t readily trust their company’s practices with 53% saying it’s likely that their employer will change their remote or hybrid work policy in the next year. Another 16% are feeling unsure, a 45% jump since 2022. Communication and transparency are crucial when it comes to creating effective and comfortable hybrid work environments.
Though employees are skeptical about the rationale of why they have to be in the office, it’s important to note that the story isn’t that all employees are reluctant to go to the office, they just think the office works better for some tasks than others. 38% of hybrid workers say the office works best for meeting new people, 30% say it’s best for team meetings, and 28% prefer it for collaborating. They shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other – if productivity remains the same or increased, employees should have autonomy on where they spend their time working. In fact, 90% of hybrid workers said they feel equally or more productive when working in a hybrid format.
In 2023, we have seen some companies doing their best to invite or entice employees to the office versus mandating it. What matters most to hybrid employees when it comes to returning to the office? Hint: it’s not only the snacks.
Companies paying for commuting costs (38%) is at the top of the list, followed by greater privacy at the office [e.g. dedicated offices, more phone booths] (34%), and having a way to know when people they want to see will be there (33%). It might be a good time to kill the dress code, as 1 in 4 (24%) said they would be enticed to go to the office if they were able to wear whatever they wanted.
80% of men agree that their company is requiring employees to work in the office because it is essential or more productive for their job function, compared to 47% of women.
What office perks actually get hybrid employees to return to the office?
How likely is it that your employer will change your remote or hybrid policy in the next year?
Managers feel it is more likely that their employer will change their remote or hybrid policy in the next year compared to non-managers.
The office serves an important purpose because some tasks are more effective when we can collaborate in real life. The office shouldn’t be a requirement but instead, a flexible option where employees can decide to go if that’s where they work best: say hello (again) to task-based hybrid work.
Hybrid workers experience both in-office and remote work on a weekly basis. Here’s where hybrid workers say they are the most productive.
Most managers feel their teams are more productive when working remote/hybrid:
Relationships are also important, but depending on the working style, they may need to be created virtually.
How do workers find building relationships with remote colleagues compared to in-office colleagues?
Is it more expensive to work in-office or WFH? We already learned that if hybrid employees were no longer able to work remotely, 29% would expect a pay increase to make up for the additional costs … and they may not be wrong.
What’s in that $51? Here’s a cost breakdown:
Welcome to the workplace modernization era
The traditional office and its tech no longer meet today’s working needs. Good technology matters and is a crucial factor in the effectiveness of hybrid work.
In this year’s survey, 88% said their meetings have at least one remote participant. This makes reliable and easy-to-use technology in the office essential. In 2023, 80% of employees reported that they have lost meeting time due to tech difficulties. We learned that 3 in 4 employees (77%) have difficulty seeing people’s faces and therefore miss visual cues (with 22% saying this always happens), 80% report audio issues in hybrid meetings, and 76% feel like they cannot contribute effectively due to static and inefficient technology.
We’ve also learned that only 37% of companies have upgraded their meeting technology in the last year, up a meager 1% from 2022. There is a clear disconnect between employee needs and what companies are providing when it comes to basic communication and collaboration.
83% of employees said that good technology was an important factor in their work - only behind salary and pay equity, a supportive manager, and health benefits. It’s time for companies to rethink their current workspaces to meet the new demands of hybrid work. If all participants cannot actively contribute or be engaged, everyone is missing out.
For those in the back - good technology matters.
of employees have 5+ weekly online/hybrid meetings, while
have 11+ meetings
Every meeting type has its challenges. Here are the top hybrid meeting challenges.
What changes have employers made to their offices in the past year?
Too many communication platforms and too little time – 64% of workers think that their companies have gone overboard with the number of communication platforms.
Do workers feel that their company uses too many communication platforms?
What’s keeping managers up at night
Being a manager today likely requires more effort than ever before. Oftentimes, employees are scattered across the country, or even the globe. These leaders are battling employee burnout (and their own) while trying to maintain open communication and collaboration for themselves and among their teams. Productivity is still the primary focus of leaders and companies, but there are so many other factors to consider.
Managers’ top concern when managing remote or hybrid employees is IT support issues (34%) - it's the technology. Other concerns include maintaining cultural connection, team camaraderie and communication (34%), employee engagement (32%), and employee satisfaction (32%). We know that only 37% of companies have upgraded their video conferencing technology, so there is clearly a gap and room for improvement.
Managing teams today - especially those new to the workforce and new to working in a hybrid format - poses its own unique challenges. More than two-thirds of managers (68%) said their remote and hybrid team members are missing out on impromptu or in-formal feedback opportunities, with male managers being 30% more likely than female managers to feel this way. However, only 48% of remote and hybrid workers agree.
At the end of the day, managers and employees are closely aligned; everyone wants a sense of balance, productivity, and effective collaboration.
Top concerns of managers who oversee remote/hybrid teams:
Hybrid workers and managers feel differently when it comes to proximity bias:
Managers are paying attention to employee productivity when they are working remote or hybrid.
So what have employers done to implement more effective hybrid work?
Where does employee loyalty come into play? More than 3 in 4 of those surveyed (78%) feel committed to their organizations and 75% feel connected to their organizations’ purpose.
Where employee loyalty lies:
Managers feel more connected to their team than non-managers:
Power of proximity, equity + mental health
As the data has shown, hybrid working has many benefits and, in most cases, is the preferred way to work. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges associated with this work style. Hybrid working is like an onion – peel back one layer back and you have another, and another (and another, you get it). Sometimes it can feel like a game of whack-a-mole.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a one-size-fits-all approach. Successful hybrid work takes intention, thoughtfulness and 360° communication that includes the ability to pivot or change policies when they aren’t quite working.
Proximity bias – which has become a popular term – is still quite prevalent today, with 63% of employees feeling concerned that managers view those in the office as harder working and more trustworthy than their remote counterparts. Another 60% are concerned that working remotely will mean they have less of a say at work and miss out on opportunities. And 63% said they are more likely to ask the opinion of those they physically work with, rather than their remote colleagues. Leaders have more work to do here to ensure that everyone feels like they’re treated equitably.
This perceived lack of fairness could be contributing to the disengagement at work that 52% of respondents feel. The top reason for this disengagement was due to their mental health declining in the past year (31%).
On a more positive note, employees seem more connected to their companies than in previous years. The vast majority have positive feelings about their companies – 80% of respondents said they are committed to their team, 78% feel committed to their organizations, and 75% said they feel connected to their organizations’ purpose, mission, and values.
In addition to finding out what employees want, we also explored their concerns, so employers can create plans and policies to address them.
Top employee concerns:
What makes employees feel disengaged with their work?
To what extent do employees agree or disagree with these statements around proximity bias?
Stress in the workplace
How did workers’ stress levels change over the past year?
71% of men’s work-related stress levels have increased in the past year compared to just 41% of women’s.
59% of full-time office workers’ stress levels have increased in the past year compared to 55% of hybrid workers’ and 36% of remote workers’.
65% of managers’ work-related stress levels have increased in the past year compared to just 34% of non-managers’.
More money, more problems – stress levels increase along with salaries:
Pay equity among workers regardless of location was at the top of the list of most important factors at a company, with 84% of workers saying it’s important. Hybrid work requires trust and promoting employees based on performance, not proximity.
It’s time to look into our crystal ball and share our predictions for the rest of the year and beyond. From generative AI to Apple goggles, there is a lot on the horizon and it’s happening fast. So what could be implemented today and what will be adopted in the (near) future?
Not the most progressive from a technology standpoint, but certainly from a traditional working perspective is the concept of the 4-day work week. One in four (28%) workers said this would be appealing in a future employer, with non-managers being 40% more inclined to want it than managers. A quarter of survey respondents (25%) would even take a 15% pay cut for this perk.
More than half (52%) of workers said their employers adopted AI technology to replace or augment employees’ roles this year. However, employees don’t seem to be overly concerned about the use of generative AI (like ChatGPT) as 44% say it will help them do their jobs faster and more effectively. On the flip side, 1 in 3 (31%) think AI would compete with their jobs and 1 in 4 (23%) are concerned it will steal their jobs altogether.
When it comes to future technologies that employees want their employers to adopt in the next two years, AI, or an AI assistant (48%) is at the top of the list and augmented/mixed reality devices are next at 44%. Nearly one in three workers (31%) desire improved video conferencing technologies that can better replicate the human experience.
of workers said their employer has adopted AI tech to replace or augment employee roles in 2023.
What effect do workers think generative AI, like ChatGPT, will have on their jobs in the next 5 years?
Which of the following technologies would workers be interested in seeing their employers adopt in the next 2 years?
Our main takeaway from the seventh edition of Owl Labs’ State of Hybrid Work can be summarized with one word: flexibility. It’s overwhelmingly what employees want and something companies can offer effectively if executed with intention. We look forward to continuing to bring you this research each year as your trusted, go-to data source.
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Background + Demographics
Owl Labs surveyed 2,000 full-time workers in the United States, ages 18+, at companies with 2+ employees. This survey data was collected in June of 2023.
Years at company
About Owl Labs
Owl Labs is the first company to build AI-powered, 360-degree video conferencing solutions for hybrid organizations. Its suite of products makes meetings more inclusive and collaborative by leveling the playing field between remote and in-room participants. The company’s flagship product, the Meeting Owl® 3, is the first WiFi-enabled, 360-degree camera, microphone and speaker that automatically zooms in on whoever’s speaking. Owl Labs has raised $47 million in funding and is based in Boston, with remote and hybrid employees all over the world. To learn more, visit owllabs.com.
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