Pulse Signals

Pulse Signals: The return to the physical workplace

March 1, 2021
min read
Melody Chen
Melody Chen
An image of a laptop screen with zoom call with multiple callers

Pulse recently ran a study, as well as engaged in discussions in the executive community, to understand how technology leaders are thinking about the return to work in Q1 2021. Here’s a snapshot of what we learned so far in February 2021.

Pulse recently ran a study, as well as engaged in discussions in the executive community, to understand how technology leaders are thinking about the return to work in Q1 2021. Here’s a snapshot of what we learned so far in February 2021.

The below is an excerpt from Pulse's February Pulse Signals briefing. Signals is a monthly overview of the top trending topics amongst the Pulse community of technology decision makers.

Most non-essential businesses went remote almost a year ago. Teams have had to relearn how to communicate and collaborate within the confines of a remote environment. However, as vaccine rollouts pick up pace, leaders are thinking about how to successfully return to the physical workplace—and if their employees even want that.

So how happy are leaders with the state of remote work within their organization? A whopping 92% have found remote work satisfactory. So will everyone be happy to return to the office?

A graph about the current state of remote work. 92% are satisfied with the current state of remote work in their organization.

As those of us who switched suddenly to remote work know, there are challenges when your home doubles as your office five days a week. Even tech leaders aren’t immune. The more frequent personal challenges reported in the Pulse community discussions are:

  • Inconsistent internet connectivity
  • Difficulty finding work-life balance
  • Lower motivation and morale
  • Live team building events are at times viewed as obligations similar to meetings 
  • Camaraderie is difficult to create via online collaboration tools
  • Differing work hours are leading collaboration challenges

"It's on us, as leaders, to remind people to take advantage of this...If you don't, I think you find people are probably starting to find themselves in maybe a bad state of mind." - CIO, Software

Managing teams remotely also has its unique challenges. Leaders have found recreating the social aspect of the workplace and proper employee onboarding particularly challenging. A third of leaders surveyed are dealing with security challenges presented by remote work.

But there are benefits too. In spite of the challenges, employees seem more satisfied and, without a physical workplace to manage, costs are down. More than half are seeing increased employee productivity and improved employee retention.

Is there a correct approach to the return to work? Tech company responses have varied, such as announcing “virtual first” remote workforces (e.g., Dropbox, Twitter, Shopify) and allowing more flexibility with the option to work from home (e.g.m Microsoft, Facebook). Salesforce declared that “an immersive workspace is no longer limited to a desk” and “the 9-to-5 workday is dead”.  News editorials have discussed the abandonment of the physical workplace, proclaiming “Americans might never come back to the office.” New co-working startups jumped on the bandwagon, readying themselves for an influx of remote workers looking for a place to work.


Insight from the Pulse community suggests that flexibility will be the key to a satisfied workforce—and it also depends on where employees are at in their careers.

Based on the discussions with executives in the Pulse community, employees seem to fall into three distinct groups of return to work preferences based on their career stage:

  • Early career: want to be back in the office to benefit from in-person collaboration and office perks 
  • Mid-career: want to come back to work occasionally to keep flexibility 
  • Later-career: would rather not come back to the office in an effort to avoid commute, socializing, and crowds 

Many leaders are still evaluating these preferences and waiting to make a decision, but one thing is for certain—it’s important to have a clear official policy around remote work so that everyone knows the rules and doesn’t abuse the situation, but the policy needs to be flexible enough to adapt to unique satisfaction levels.

Now that the workforce has had a taste of work from home, if a company has too strict a policy, they can miss out on the talent that will be tempted by more flexible policies elsewhere. This is reflected in our research, with almost 86% of teams planning for a flexible future and 4% anticipating going fully remote. 

Perhaps this is a reflection of reality: employees may have already relocated to lower cost of living/low density geographies to take advantage of remote work. Cost of living readjustments have been floated by companies such as Facebook and Redfin, where compensation is tiered based on location. FinTech company Stripe offered employees who move away from San Francisco, New York or Seattle a one-time relocation bonus of $20,000...in return for a 10% salary cut. 

Yet, we found that only 17% of leaders report that their organization will take this measure:

When it comes down to it, most executives said that ultimately employees will dictate what organizations do. This may take the form of companies opening up smaller offices in areas with a lower cost of living, or allowing employees to expense work share spaces.

How is your organization thinking about the return to work? Join the conversation in the Pulse community.

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