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Why Return to Office Mandates Don’t Work

Mandira Venkat Sep 30, 2022 2:19:53 PM
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The following blog mainly addresses return to work mandates as they impact office employees

We hear more and more stories like these where employees are resisting return to office mandates or leaving companies that have these mandates in place. Attrition is a significant cost especially in a tight labor market. Some NBC and NYT employees are defying return to office orders. Apple’s employees have also started petitioning against the company’s return to office policies.

There are many employees who do not want to return to the office full time. For example, when Teradata Corp. asked their employees if they wanted to return to the office, only half said yes. Before establishing a return to office mandate, employers may want to consider asking employees what working arrangements they’d prefer.

According to a Harvard Business School study, workers benefit from the flexibility of being able to work from home. The ideal amount of time in the office appears to be between 23%-40%.  According to the study, employees in this group “reported greater satisfaction with working from home, greater work-life balance, and lower isolation” compared to the other groups they studied. 

There are many benefits to allowing remote work. In today’s competitive hiring market, flexibility can help employers attract and retain talented employees. The paper, How Hybrid Working From Home Works Out, found that work from home reduced attrition rates by 35% and improved self-reported work satisfaction scores.


Companies such as Airbnb are taking the flexible approach. They released a statement from the CEO, Brian Chesky, that employees can now live and work anywhere. According to the statement, “The world is becoming more flexible about where people can work.” Though they are now allowing employees to work from home or the office, they still plan on collaborative time. A part of their approach includes setting up time to meet regularly for gatherings.

Airbnb stands out as an example of a flexible workspace which provides employees with the opportunity to choose how they want to collaborate and creates opportunities for everyone to connect.

How Different Businesses Approach Return to Office Policies

The return to office policies of several notable companies vary greatly in terms of the flexibility they offer to employees. Time will tell how the success of these policies impact employee morale, engagement, and turnover. However, it is interesting to see that many of today’s leading companies recognize that employees need at least a partial work from home option. 

As we have noted, some companies are leaving the decision up to employees on returning to the office, such as Airbnb. Other companies, such as Tesla, Apple, NYT, and NBC are requiring employees to come in a certain number of days.

According to Axios Seattle, Meta’s 8,000+ employees in Seattle are not currently required to work a certain number of days in the office. As reported by Business Insider, Google has asked employees in several locations to return at least 3 days a week with the option to request to work from home permanently. 

Even the top 10 Fortune 500 companies' return to work policies are mixed. Four of these companies are requiring employees return to the office a certain number of days each week. Three of these companies are leaving the decisions up to branches, teams, managers, or supervisors. Two companies have mandates and are allowing employees to ask for additional flexibility. However, one of the two companies is only allowing for temporary work from home extension. Lastly, at least two companies do not have official policies for returning to the office.

Some companies are reviewing their previous stances and allowing for flexibility. For example, JP Morgan’s CEO had previously criticized remote work. Now, he has accepted work from home is becoming more common in U.S. business and estimates about 40% of his workforce will be working under a hybrid model

The CEO at Goldman Sachs is a reported critic of remote working. After Labor Day, the company lifted many COVID for entering the office.

The insights we collected may help guide companies as they make decisions on their own return to work policies. Employees may feel empowered if they are given the opportunity to provide feedback or create their own hybrid work arrangements.


Why Return to Office Mandates Won’t Work

It does appear that some return to office policies are receiving pushback. What does this mean? Employees are looking for more autonomy and control over their work life. Surveys to support this idea are noted in WorkEQ’s previous pieces on hybrid work. 

In the LinkedIn article Why Hybrid Work Doesn't Work, by bestselling author Jacob Morgan, the author notes several reasons why a hybrid work program may not work. Morgan states that leaders need to avoid strict hybrid work schedules and embrace flexibility to succeed.

Our CEO, Jikku Venkat, is observing companies as they take a stance on return to work policies. We asked him for his thoughts on return to office policies and documented the Q&A. 

Q: What are your thoughts on requiring employees to return to the office a certain amount of days per week? 

A: If you really want employees to be productive and engaged, the better approach is to facilitate a more natural return to the office when it makes sense for the employees. Businesses should empower their people to create the best working arrangements that allow them to accomplish what they need to.

Q: How can employers optimize collaborative time in the office?

A: Sharing work schedules helps managers and colleagues coordinate, in a natural way, to align in-office time based on business needs.   

Q: Why should businesses offer flexible work arrangements?

A: We are seeing instances where it makes sense for folks to work in the office and others who would prefer to work primarily remotely. Some of the younger generations, for example, are struggling to build connections at work. With flexible working arrangements and tools to coordinate social activities, employers can build a strong culture where all employees feel engaged and connected with their coworkers and the company.

As our CEO notes, requiring that employees return to the office may not be the best solution. As we manage the fundamental changes in how we work, listening to employees and embracing digital tools can help create a resilient, healthy, and connected workforce.

There are also generational differences in how we want to work. For example, the Harvard Business Review has written a piece on how to help Gen Z employees feel more connected at the workplace..

Track Success of Flexible, Hybrid Work Policies

No matter what policies your company chooses to implement, how will you monitor outcomes? It is important to identify whether your policy has had beneficial outcomes for your business. Monitoring outcomes also allows employers to identify if there are spaces for improvement and iteration on their current program. 

WorkEQ’s tools can help businesses track the success of their return to work policies. Through their platform, managers can monitor who is planning to come to the office. The comprehensive dashboard gives HR insights to create a flexible, healthy, and engaged office.