April 15, 2021 at 07:43PM

The workplace is opening back up, albeit slowly. Facebook, Microsoft and Uber have all begun slowly reopening their physical workspace — in a highly limited capacity and on a very voluntary basis.

“Our goal is to give employees further flexibility, allowing people to work where they feel most productive and comfortable, while also encouraging employees to work from home as the virus and related variants remain concerning,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

According to Microsoft, flexibility is the name of the game, as in-house research reflected that 73 percent of workers want flexible remote options. “The past year has fundamentally changed the nature of work,” concludes the study.

Looking at PYMNTS’ recent data, there are many places in which consumers are looking for a return to their old normal — but getting back to the office does not rank high on that list. In fact, it’s at the bottom, with only 20 percent of respondents reporting a desire to work more in the office if they could. Conversely, the same report demonstrated that almost two-thirds (65 percent) of consumers said they would see friends and family more often if given the option to do so.

And that’s not a small share of the workforce — according to the data, roughly a third of all consumers who have shifted from working in an office to working in their homes, with the vast majority content to keep it that way, even after the pandemic. Over 80 percent of those currently working from home reported that they intend to keep it that way, at least part of the time, while only 17 percent reported a strong intention to get back to the office as soon as possible.

And as of March 2021, that figure indicated that consumers’ willingness to continue working from home remains on the incline. As of November of last year, 33 percent of employed consumers had shifted to working from home, and 76 percent of those employees planned to keep working from outside their offices.

And that enthusiasm for remote work, according to recent PwC data, is growing increasingly prevalent among employers. Less than one in five executives reported a plan to return to pre-pandemic office usage. Though notably, only 13 percent were considering abandoning the office entirely, while 87 percent believed it was necessary for collaborating with team members and building relationships, and 68 percent believed that employees should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain a distinct company culture.

Employers are also increasingly positively disposed toward the digital relocation of their workforce. Eighty-three percent of employers now say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company, compared to 73 percent who said the same in PwC’s June 2020 survey.

So will the great mass of office shifters stay shifted — or will the possibility of returning to a more normal office environment and having a reason to leave the house be enough to pull them back? A year ago, when PYMNTS surveyed consumers, office shifters (consumers who had relocated to a home office) were the ones most pumped to get back out there, with 40 percent saying they were “very” or “extremely interested” in getting out of the house. And that included their workplaces, with 47.8 percent of office shifters reporting a desire to go back to work on-site, compared to 24 percent of the sample average.

And yet for all their enthusiasm to get back out there, in many ways, the shifted office workers were the most persuaded to adopt digital habits, even a year ago. According to the research, 75.7 percent of office shifters who are using mobile order-ahead more often plan to continue doing so, with buying online and picking up curbside also gaining increased traction.

A year later, it seems a lot of that enthusiasm to get back to the workspace has dimmed, though enthusiasm for the new digital habits learned while working from home has not. The workers, it seems, will return to their offices — but perhaps not for the five-day workweek of the past.

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