Prialto published our annual Executive Productivity Report in late October, and it contained a surprising find. When asked if they wanted to go back to the office, 79% of executives said yes.

However, a Flexjobs poll found that 65% of employees want to work from home permanently.

When asked why they wanted to return to the office, executives’ biggest reason was to improve productivity.

While executives want to return to the office, they also said that their productivity improved while working from home.

Why do executives want to go to the office to improve productivity when they are more productive at home? Look at the second biggest reason: to connect with coworkers.

What Executives Are Actually Doing

To step back for a minute, we started the Executive Productivity Report because, being in the productivity business, we see a lot of marketing around how executives can work more efficiently by using various tools, apps and tips. But we do not have much information about what executives actually do and use to be productive. No one seems to be asking.

Similarly, there have been dozens of polls of rank-and-file employees about their attitudes towards remote work and returning to an office environment. Still, I haven’t seen any surveys of leaders. And while I do believe that executives want to go back to the office because they think they can be most productive there — myself included — I believe that there is another reason they want to return: to keep building their careers.

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Reading Between the Lines: Executives Want to Advance

While we didn’t ask about career advancement as a reason to return, we can connect some dots. We have all heard about the “Great Resignation” that is in progress; record numbers of people are quitting their jobs every month. A common theme is that people are quitting because they want more growth and development opportunities.

Executives want advancement. Those who have already climbed a rung or two up the managerial ladder know well that promotion comes from building productive relationships. Throughout their careers, they made those relationships in in-person environments. Frequent planned and unplanned interactions with leaders allow them to shine. It may not be the only way to get noticed, but it is the way they know how to be seen based on experience.

60% said they want to connect with coworkers in person, and we can assume that means at all levels of the organization. Individual contributors may be content to work from home forever, and they can prove their value with their work product. Managers, directors and VPs looking to move up the food chain want to be an office environment.

Why I Want to Go Back to the Office

I am eager to get back to the office too. In fact, I just signed a lease for new, expanded office space in downtown Portland, OR. I’m not looking to advance my career (I am the CEO), but what gets me up in the morning is advancing the careers of the rest of my team. In my experience, we learn and grow best in cohorts with frequent knowledge-sharing and experience-sharing that makes everyone better and that amplifies growth over time.

This, I believe, is what executives are telling us when they overwhelmingly want to return to the office. Yes, their productivity improved while working from home compared to 2019, but productivity is not an end in itself. They want to grow their business and careers, and the office, they are telling us, is where they want to do both.

Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments.  I’d love to hear from you.

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