Remote Workers Willing to Take $12k Hit as Roblox, Amazon, Nike Push for Office Comeback

Roblox, Nike, Amazon shift to office work and risk resignations, while new FlexJobs research shows that 63% are willing to sacrifice 20% pay for remote.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
October 27, 2023
min read

Welcome to Future Work. Every week, I scan the news for must-know stories about the employee-centric, happiness-focused, distributed, and AI-driven future of work. Below is this week’s edition. Not a member yet? Join over 8,000 people-centric managers and subscribe here.

Are you currently working remotely?

And asked to return to the office, like at Roblox, Amazon, and Nike?

How much of a pay cut would you be willing to take to keep working from home?

That question has now been answered: up to $11,627 annually. 

And for good reason, shows new FlexJobs research.

The Need-to-Know:

  • Roblox, Nike, and Amazon are returning to the office. Roblox was fully remote but now asks people to come into the office three days per week. Nike went from 3 to 4 office days, and Amazon told managers they could fire people who stayed at home. 
  • Those mandates could lead to resignations. Only 6% of Americans prefer full-time office work if given a choice (Gallup), and 56% know someone who plans to quit due to a return-to-office mandate (FlexJobs.)
  • Workers would even take a 20% pay cut to stay home. The risk of losing employees due to these mandates is real, as FlexJobs' research found that 63% of respondents are willing to sacrifice up to 20% of their pay for remote or hybrid jobs or almost $12k on an average salary.
  • Remote work saves money. Remote workers save $2,387 – $12,750 annually due to reduced expenses on commuting, meals, and other office-related costs. Fully remote work has also created 'Zoom towns' with a lower cost of living, although this could prove risky for employees who are called back to the office. 

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The Return-to-Office Rollercoaster: From More Office Days to Threats of Termination 

It’s been a busy week on the return-to-office front.

While Dropbox sensibly returned 25% of its office space, companies like Roblox, Amazon, and Nike called their employees back to the office.

More return to office headlines this week, with Amazon, Nike, and Roblox

Roblox told employees to come to the office three days a week or take a severance package. 

Remote employees must relocate, and those who choose not to go into the office from Tuesday through Thursday “can opt for a severance package.”

This decision marks a significant change from May 2022, when Roblox told employees that remote work would be the primary mode of operation. 

Plus, Roblox is an online world where people make money designing games for others. The irony is thick on this one, folks.

Amazon, which mandated RTO earlier this year, told managers they can now fire employees who won't come into the office three times a week. 

Managers were advised to privately discuss with employees who don’t meet the minimum in-office requirements and document those discussions in a follow-up email. 

Documentation leaked to Insider shared this instruction: 

"This conversation will 1) reinforce that return to office 3+ days a week is a requirement of their job, and 2) explain that continued noncompliance without a legitimate reason may lead to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of your employment."

Nike office in Oregon

Nike, an industry leader and Oregon’s largest company said employees must return to the office FOUR days per week.  

"We’ve seen the power and energy that comes from working together in person, and we aim to create more of that,” a statement shared. 

Employees may disagree: “Some say Nike needs workers in the office to collaborate on new products while others warn the company risks losing employees if it takes away flexibility,” reports Matthew Kish in The Oregonian.

Return to Office: Risky Move, Employers 

Mandating employees to return to the office remains a risky move. 

Employees will vote with their feet, given the many benefits of remote work

Gallup polling indicates that only 6% of Americans would prefer to work in an office full-time if given the choice. 

Gallup survey on hybrid and remote work

And now, new research shows that employees would even pay to avoid the office. 

A widely shared USA Today article, “Americans Will Part With Pay To Work From Home,” drove over 40,000 engagements across social platforms like Facebook and Reddit. 

The article reports on research from Stanford University economist Nick Bloom, which reveals that employees are willing to forego about 8% of their annual pay for a remote or hybrid job. 

In my interview with Nick about this research, Nick explained that 8% sounds like a lot but that it isn’t:

“If you had one job that paid 8% less, but you only had to go in two days a week, and the other one paid the base, but you had to go five days. The hybrid role means you can live further away from the office, have more space, a better neighborhood, and have more free time. This is why that's about the average number we see in the data.” – Stanford Economics professor Nick Bloom.

FlexJobs's “Remote Work & RTO Pulse Report” wanted to understand these potential pay cuts in more detail and surveyed over 8,400 individuals in August 2023.

The study found that 63% of respondents are willing to accept a lower salary if they can work remotely. 

And not just the 8% from previous research: 17% of employees are willing to take a pay cut of up to 20%, while 10% are willing to take more than 20%. 

Based on a median U.S. salary of $58,136 for full-time employees, an 8-20% pay cut totals $4,650 – $11,627 annually. 

This, while as Jane Thier points out accurately in Fortune, “home prices are skyrocketing, pay raises are flat in many industries, and most jobs are failing to provide a cost-of-living adjustment.”

Still, FlexJobs found that for most people (63%), flexibility is the most important factor to have in a job, more than salary (61%), having a good boss (48%), meaningful work (48%), and health insurance (42%). 

FlexJobs’ CEO Sara Sutton, one of our 55 Remote Work Thought Leaders, shared with me that the results didn’t surprise her:

“These sentiments aren't surprising when considering remote work's wide range of benefits. People we surveyed experience improved mental and physical health, higher productivity, cost savings, less commuting stress, better work-life balance, and an overall happier work experience. These make the trade-off to work remotely well worth a pay cut for many.” – Sara Sutton, CEO, FlexJobs
FlexJobs' CEO Sara Sutton
FlexJobs CEO Sara Sutton is not surprised people are willing to cut pay for remote benefits

On the trend of companies asking for office returns, Sara warned this is a risky move. 

She shared that the remote job marketplace remains strong across career levels and industries like Computer & IT, Marketing, Accounting and Finance, Project Management, Medical and Health, HR and Recruiting, and Customer Service.

Companies that don’t provide any flexibility may suffer the consequences, she says:

“Today's workforce values working remotely so much that 56% of people say they know someone who has quit or plans to quit due to return-to-office mandates. For employers, failing to provide remote work options could result in higher attrition rates and greater challenges around recruiting, hiring, and retaining top talent.” – Sara Sutton, CEO, FlexJobs

Make Less, Save More

As I wrote in last week’s Future Work, “6 out of 10 CEOs Predict We’re Returning to the Office Full-Time. I Don’t Think So,” remote work can result in significant cost savings, potentially offsetting a hypothetical pay cut. 

In the 2023 Owl Labs report on hybrid work, employees shared that coming to the office costs them $51 daily, or $12,750 per year.

Owl Labs shows people can spend 13k per year on working from the office

Bloomberg research from earlier this year pegged this cost at between $2,387 (Chicago) and $4,661 (New York) but regardless, working from home means less money spent.

According to the Owl Labs report, 29% of employees said they’d expect a salary increase if their boss mandated a return to the office. A sentiment that was widely shared in a Reddit discussion on the topic:

“You’d have to pay me so much more (for the same job) to convince me to return to the office. That’s at least ~10-15 more hours of my week with commuting, doing my morning routine, packing a lunch, etc, plus gas and wear and tear on my car.” – Redditor 

Besides meals, commuting, and other office-related costs, remote workers' additional cost savings come from moving to more affordable places. 

Freed from the office, employees moved to more affordable areas like Dallas, Manchester, N.H., and upstate New York, creating what is known as "Zoom towns." 

"Zoom Town" Aspen, Colorado
"Zoom Town" Aspen, Colorado

After an initial spike, prices will decrease again as new construction comes onto the market, shared NYT’s Emma Goldberg in conversation with Julia Hobsbawm on The Nowhere Office podcast. 

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But moving far away may have downsides as well.

Nick Bloom shared reservations about moving to a new city based solely on the promise of remote work being available indefinitely. 

“Fully remote is a tricky one to think about. I think in the U.S., that may shrink partly because of offshoring. When I talk to American and European companies, they say, Look, if I can have IT remote, why would I have that in the U.S. I can do that in Argentina, Nigeria, or the Philippines, wherever it is.” – Nick Bloom, World’s Leading Work From Home Expert.

The risk of companies replacing remote employees in the US with more affordable people in other parts of the world is real.

Nick shared the example of a drive-through where you think you’re speaking to someone inside, but someone with a headset in The Philippines could be taking your order. 

“In America, you shout into this loudspeaker to give your order, and then you drive up the window, and there's someone there who hands you a hamburger and fries. I didn't realize that many people taking that order are remote workers because you don't need the person listening to the order to be in the restaurant. Why would you? They can be anywhere.” – Nick Bloom.

(They may even be located in North Korea and use their salary to fund the country’s ballistic missile program.)

FlexJobs’ CEO Sara Sutton also said that she believes the city-swapping to be more of a COVID-era trend and that hybrid will remain the leading model, causing people to live near work.

“While trends like digital nomadism and moving away from bigger cities grew in popularity during the pandemic, today, we're seeing a strong interest in hybrid working models and anticipate it to be the long-term norm for businesses. This year, our Top 100 Companies for Hybrid Jobs, which recognizes the employers with the highest number of hybrid job openings, welcomed more than 50 newcomers, signaling the expanding number of employers embracing hybrid work and striking a balance of in-office and remote work setups.” – Sara Sutton, CEO, FlexJobs

The bottom line: 

While the return-to-office trend gains momentum, the gamble for employers is real. 

Employees are putting a tangible price on the privilege of remote work of up to almost $12,000 annually, even in economically challenging times.

The advantages of remote work, from financial savings to improved work-life balance, are well-documented, and employees are becoming increasingly vocal about their preferences. 

It seems abundantly clear that the future lies not in rigid office mandates but in the flexible embrace of hybrid models catering to employer and employee needs.

As two employees at the water cooler would say: "shut up and take my $12k."


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Future Work

A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.