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CEOs are secretly plotting against hybrid work and pushing for a 5-day office return by 2026

kupicoo—Getty Images

It seems employees have won the battle for hybrid work as some combination of in-office and at-home work becomes the new normal.

Even under pressure from bosses to return to the office, employees have steadfastly held the line against any reversion to pre-pandemic work models that saw them meandering through congested highways or trudging through subway systems five days a week. Bosses want employees back in the office? Fine, how do three days a week sound?

Top managers, however, are plotting a new offensive.

Roughly 64% of CEOs believe there will be a full return to office by 2026, according to a survey of more than 1,300 CEOs from the accounting and consulting firm KPMG. And just 7% of CEOs believe fully remote work will be the norm in the long term.

“This sentiment underscores the persistence of traditional office-centric thinking among CEOs,” the KPMG report reads. “It comes against a backdrop of the debate surrounding hybrid working, which has had a largely positive impact on productivity over the past three years and has strong employee support, particularly among the younger generation of workers.”

Hybrid work is indeed as beloved as any work can be and is more widely accepted than ever. The number of people working from home tripled from 2019 (9 million) to 2021 (27.6 million), according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Nearly 60% of employed respondents to a McKinsey survey, equivalent to 92 million people from a cross-section of jobs and industries, reported having the option to work from home for all or part of the week.

The benefits of a more flexible working model have long been widely touted. A 2013 study coauthored by Stanford University professor Nick Bloom, the go-to expert on remote work, found that working from home led to a 13% performance increase. That number has likely increased over the last 10 years thanks to technological advancements. Separately, in a 2022 pulse survey from Slack’s think tank, Future Forum, remote and hybrid workers reported 4% higher productivity than their fully in-office counterparts.

Admittedly, data to support or oppose remote work isn’t so cut and dry. You can find research that points to a 10% decrease in productivity or a 20% increase depending on workers’ roles.

But many individual contributors, managers, and senior leaders agree that some combination of in-office and remote work has improved their work-life balance, made them more efficient, and lessened burnout, according to findings from a Gallup survey.

Still, not all CEOs are on board, with several prominent chief executives making their advocacy of a full office return well known. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, and Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman are a few voices in a cacophony of leaders who’ve expressed frustration at employees' unwillingness to be in the office more frequently.

Even companies that were once bullish on remote work are pulling employees back into the workplace—Zoom now requires employees to return to the office two days a week.

It’s still unclear if CEOs will win the RTO war. But even if workers manage to carve out remote work exceptions for themselves, there are ominous signs they will pay in other ways. Nearly 90% of CEOs surveyed by KPMG say they are likely to reward employees who return to the office with better assignments, raises, and promotions.

Perhaps the CEOs are on to something. Perhaps they know something the rest of us don’t. We’ve seen how much can change in three years; only time will tell what the 2026 workplace will look like. As it stands, workers don’t seem willing to give up their newfound flexibility just yet—even amid layoffs and economic pressures—and it’s unlikely that will change in the near future.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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