Working paper

Employer perspectives on employee work location: collaboration, culture and control

Employee surveys across different countries indicate that employees prefer working remotely and do not want to return to the office full time.

Publishing date
30 May 2023

Executive summary

This paper discusses employers’ experience of working fully remotely during the pandemic, and their approaches to returning to the office following the pandemic. We chose to focus on the point of view of the employer since it is relatively less explored; much more is available and written on the views and opinions of employees about remote work and return to office.

To understand the employer’s perspective, we reviewed existing research evidence, and carried out eleven structured interviews with corporate leaders about their experiences with remote, in-office and hybrid work. 

Our literature review suggests that remote work does not have negative effects on performance. Similarly, the small sample of employers we interviewed experienced very strong company and employee performance while operating their businesses fully remotely. All employers we interviewed are implementing a hybrid return-to-office policy, although the specifics of the policies are different for each company. No employer was returning to full in-office work. 

We focused our literature review and interviews on the impact of remote work on employee collaboration, firm culture and manager control, which we call ‘the 3 Cs’. We found that leaders maintain a belief that employee collaboration is negatively impacted by remote work, but the evidence to support this assumption is mixed. Firm culture is often cited by employers as an important rationale for bringing employees back to the office, but the research evidence and our interviewees suggest that the notion of culture is vague and the idea that better culture is supported by in-office work is not supported by any data. Finally, the shift to remote work caused corporate leaders and front-line managers to worry about effectively managing employees they couldn’t see every day. We found that companies did not widely begin implementing employee monitoring systems in lieu of onsite management. Our interviews suggest that much learning remains to transition managers and leaders to effectively managing remote or hybrid employees and teams.

This was produced within the project ‘Future of Work and Inclusive Growth in Europe’ with the financial support of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth.

Both authors have contributed equally to this paper.

About the authors

  • Diane Mulcahy

    Diane Mulcahy was a Visiting Fellow at Bruegel until the end of 2023. She is an expert on the Gig Economy and contributes to Bruegel’s project on the Future of Work and Inclusive Growth. She is the author of The Gig Economy (Harper Collins, 2016), a best-selling book that has been translated into five languages, and an advisor Fortune 500 and startup companies about the future of work. Diane created the first MBA course in the U.S. on the Gig Economy.

    Diane is also a private equity and venture capital investor and contributes to Bruegel’s work on innovation and entrepreneurship. She was a VC investor in early-stage companies for nearly a decade, and currently manages the PE portfolio for a large foundation in the U.S. Diane’s work on the VC industry has been featured in The Economist, the Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, The New Yorker, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and is part of the curriculum of several MBA programs, including Case Western, Darden, INSEAD, Kellogg, and NYU, as well as Harvard Law School.

    Diane was previously a Visiting Fellow at Trinity College Dublin’s Policy Institute, where she wrote about the Irish government’s policies of financing the VC industry.

    Diane holds Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.) and A.B. degrees from Harvard University. She is a dual U.S. and EU (Irish) citizen.

  • Tatiana Andreeva

    Dr.Tatiana Andreeva is an Associate Professor in Management and Organisational Behavior and Research Director at the School of Business, Maynooth University, Ireland. Her research addresses the challenges of managing knowledge in organizations. For example, Tatiana seeks to understand why do people share or hide knowledge (and why they don’t), and what managers can do to facilitate knowledge sharing or prevent knowledge hiding. Her ongoing research projects explore how the shift to remote and hybrid work influences knowledge sharing and collaboration in organisations – what challenges companies face and how to address them.

    Tatiana’s work has been published in leading international academic journals such as Human Resource Management Journal, Human Resource Management, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology and Journal of World Business, amongst others, as well as in the business media outlets.

    As a Research Director of the School of Business, Maynooth University, she is responsible for promoting, supporting and enabling research in the School. 

    Prior to joining academia, Tatiana worked in management consulting and in HR.

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