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What Online Engagement Says about the Return to the Office

By Coco Carson, Insights Manager at ShareThis

COVID-19 forced businesses around the world to be nimble and find solutions to implement remote working quickly. In doing so, a new precedent was set that, no matter what reasoning may have been used in the past to circumvent it, working from home is possible for most white-collar workers.

Now that these workers have experienced how seamlessly they can work remotely, the response to “return-to-the-office” plans is somewhat mixed. Measured by searches, clicks, and shares from May to June in 2021, ShareThis data shows that 9% of online engagement focused on fully office-based work while 26 percent sought information on working in fully remote environments. The remaining 65 percent of online engagement activity centered on a hybrid work model between home and the office.

This real-time data also points to “The Great Resignation,” a movement resulting from the pandemic in which employees who had more time to reflect on their careers, personal lives, mental health, and finances during the quarantine are deciding to resign from their jobs to make changes.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 3.6 million employees quit their jobs each month between April and July of this year. In fact, a recent Microsoft study revealed that, within the next year, 41 percent of the workforce worldwide will consider leaving their current employer. Online engagement is evidence of this movement’s momentum. Engagement with relevant keywords such as “quit” and “resign” has grown an average of 11% month-over-month.

Providing further support, a recent study by the Harvard Business Review attributes the highest resignation rates to employees between the ages of 30 to 45; this on-average increase is more than 20 percent higher compared to the previous year. Of this age range, those in their late 30s and early 40s, known as Geriatric Millennials, are specifically driving “The Great Resignation” and therefore said to currently have the most power in the workforce

This finding aligns perfectly with the demographics in the real-time data from ShareThis. The largest age bracket includes those between the ages of 35 and 44 (26 percent) who will likely most feel and be affected by a return to the office; because of the time already spent and still remaining in their careers, they have the most invested. Ten percent of searches are from people between the ages 18 to 24, suggesting professionals who are just now entering corporate life are waiting to see the results and effects of the current upheaval. With retirement nearing, those aged 65 and over, who are only seven percent of the total engagement, may be less concerned about how changes will affect them.

The vision of the professional future varies from company to company. Some set the stage for a complete comeback to the in-person office, others pledge to stay remote, and more companies outline a hybrid model. An audience of office workers is showing the highest increase of interest (a growth of 44 percent on average week-over-week) in reconfiguring office space, indicating that many workers acknowledge that a return to the office is likely, and they are curious about how it will look. This curiosity includes digital design services to optimize the space an office has allowed for social distancing and capacity restrictions, in addition to using remote real estate options to sell, buy, or rent office space.

This same audience of office workers has an average of 23 percent week-over-week growth in searches, clicks, and shares of content focused on investments in remote work, showing a solid group understanding at least some of their time on the job will be based from home.

Other topics related to workplace technology changes that showed an average week-over-week growth in engagement include enhanced cybersecurity and safety protocols, which increased by 13 percent and 7 percent respectively.

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Considering the growing interest in these topics, how will companies respond?

Google is making large investments in an in-person workplace with the recent $2.1 billion purchase of a New York City office building. Having previously expressed support of a hybrid model, they have also announced vaccinated employees are expected to return to the office in January 2022.

On the other hand, mega accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers recently announced it will allow its 40,000 U.S.-based client-services employees to work remotely indefinitely. Landing in between, outdoor recreation retailer REI sold its newly constructed headquarters in Washington without ever moving in; instead of a hub bringing together thousands of employees, they’re planning for satellite offices scattered across the Seattle area.

From online engagement with relevant content, we can see subtle changes in interest and focus in today’s employees. Recognizing their preferences and expectations have changed should be companies’ first step towards approaching the current workforce. In doing so, they will likely be satisfied with the return.

Fifty-five percent of employees increase productivity when given the ability to choose the location, time, and quantity of work they perform during the week, according to the Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey. The same study also found that companies that supported the wellbeing of their employees witnessed increased improvements in their employees’ mental health by 23 percent and their physical health by 17 percent.

Today’s talent will be won by flexibility. Continuing to monitor online engagement in real-time and the trends it shows will help everyone to best prepare, employers and employees alike.

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