With all that out of mind, it may come as no surprise to learn that the staunch pro-office bosses are winning, and remote jobs are actually getting harder and harder to find.

Ringover, a British telecom firm specializing in cloud-based software, analyzed the remote work policy shifts between 2020 and 2023 at the 100 largest U.S. companies for a report aptly titled “Remote Work Rug Pull.” What they found bodes poorly for workers who have made themselves comfortable in their assumptions that their remote set-up is here to stay. 

Across the board, in-office days at America’s major companies have grown from 1.1 days per week on average in 2021 to 3.4 days in 2023. Even worse news: The U.S. trails behind its major peers when it comes to remote work—just 11.5% of its office-based roles are fully remote. That’s a real fall from grace for a country that, in 2020, led the world in remote work rates, with 61.5% of jobs fully remote. 

Naturally, employees up and down the chain of command are feeling that fear—nearly 4 in 5 (78%) of the workers Ringover surveyed in December 2023 admitted to worrying about potential RTO mandates in their workplace. Those would be almost universally unpopular; over two-thirds (67%) of respondents said they still want some amount of remote work, even though many of their companies have made moves to eliminate the option

For the report, Ringover manually analyzed remote work policies at America’s 100 largest companies, then pored over WFH Research’s Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes (SWAA) data to break those policies down by industry. (The SWAA surveys anywhere from 2,500 to 10,000 U.S. workers each month). Then it conducted research of its own, querying a sample size of 1,101 U.S. adults about their work-related opinions and preferences—60% of that group is fully remote, 27% are fully in-person, and the remaining 13% are hybrid. 

The findings? The decision to formally mandate any amount of in-person work is probably bad business. Hardly company-loyal, nearly two-thirds of Ringover’s respondents said they’d even take a lower salary to continue their remote work ways. (A similar percentage of respondents said the same in October when surveyed by FlexJobs.) All remote-capable jobs should be remote-first, 85% of Ringover’s respondents said. 

Perhaps these stats and feelings aren’t so surprising; business today is just about unrecognizable from the early pandemic era, when most everyone assumed the shift to work-from-home would be temporary. Then, of course, businesses realized that people were just as productive, if not more—and financial outcomes remained just as healthy, if not healthier.

The software heavyweights who, in another lifetime, expounded upon the benefits of distributed work, have walked back their policies significantly. Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Meta, and Apple each notched above-average rates of in-office work last year: 2.7 days a week, by Ringover’s count.  

Even 2.7 days—just over 50% of the week—in the office appears not to be enough for some bosses. Overall, businesses enforcing RTO mandates have gotten stricter, Ringover found. Now, they demand 3.4 days per week on average in the office, up from 2.1 in 2022.

And for what? “The idea that if you bring everyone into this mandatory [office] environment, working shoulder to shoulder, magical outcomes will come—that’s a silly thing,” Annie Dean, who leads distributed work planning at software firm Atlassian, said on a panel last fall. “It feels like magical thinking.”

Then there’s the fact that in most industries, remote jobs aren’t on the table at all. Ringover found that the proportion of remote jobs have grown in just four sectors since the pandemic: Hospitality, healthcare, utilities, and (most of all) information. That’s hardly up to par with the consistently huge number of workers across the economy who are desperate for remote-friendly gigs

The endless tension between bosses’ desires and what workers are willing to do will “likely define the debate around the future of work for years to come,” Ringover wrote. That, of course, assumes either side is open to compromise.

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