By the Numbers: How RTO drives productivity at work

Breaking down insights from the EY Future Workplace Index.

From return-to-office (RTO) pushes to flexible workplace policies, the past few years saw organizations constantly changing their messaging around the workplace experience. But to make those types of choices from an informed, strategic place, communicators need information that’s rooted in tangible data.

That’s where the EY Future Workplace Index comes in particularly handy. The report, issued in Dec. 2023, dives into the ongoing trends surrounding RTO and workplace culture this year—along with the motivations and factors underpinning them. In an ever-evolving workplace, you need to be equipped with the right context and reasoning to navigate change.

Employee productivity and RTO policies

According to the EY report, 54% of remote workers polled in the study reported that they were much more productive in a remote model. That was higher than the rate of either hybrid or in-office workers who reported high productivity levels in their work situations. But leaders felt markedly differently about the problem.

The report also said that 28% of leaders reported that their employees were just as productive at home as they were in the office. Additionally, 29% of leaders revealed that the top reason for bringing employees back to the office was to increase productivity.

So if employees are just as productive at home, why bring them back to the office at all? Well, there are other factors at play, including the desire for more collaboration within teams and getting a return on investment back (see: expensive office rents).

If you do plan RTO, it needs to be grounded in your company’s culture and tone. Talk to your employees about the reasons behind the move, and work with people who have reservations about the return because it’s a big change. Be transparent, rely on your values, and overcommunicate during these transition times. If you do so, you’ll avoid many of the headaches less-prepared return-to-office programs have had. That can mean making tangible differences through initiatives like a culture charter. These agreements between leaders and employees can help set the tone for a return to the office by defining the intention behind it while focusing on impactful meetings, providing uninterrupted vacation time, and spelling out core priorities behind the decision.

Leaders plan to tap AI to improve RTO

Amid the RTO push, organizational leaders are seeking help in their endeavors in technology. According to the EY report, 44% of leaders said that they wanted to use AI to optimize their physical offices. An additional 32% of leaders reported that creating the right type of space for their employees constituted a major challenge, opening the door for AI to help.


While it might seem a little counterintuitive that something not human could assist in something that needs a personal touch like HR, it’s got plenty of applications. It can serve as a virtual assistant in creating and completing rote tasks,  help in the recruiting process, and free up time to foster deeper person-to-person connections. AI isn’t without risks, but that’s why every organization needs people behind the scenes to control it responsibly.

Whatever the solution, major moves in the workplace that are supported with both accurate context and information support a solid culture to back the decisions up. No matter where your employees work, being honest and detailed with them in your communications will go a long way toward building your employer brand and employee experience. 

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports and hosting trivia.

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