Is an office mandate the right choice for your company?

An increasing number of companies are implementing return-to-work mandates, which have elicited a wide range of employee responses across the globe.

Company Culture

June 5, 2024

6 min read

A happy team meets in their office space

We all know the story: in the wake of the COVID pandemic, a significant portion of the working world transitioned to remote work, leading to a rapid and profound shift in traditional working practices. 

Now, 4 years later, the desire for face-to-face collaboration in the workplace is growing. In recent years, organizations have been eager to reunite their workforce, recognizing the value of in-person interaction. It’s no secret that an increasing number of companies are implementing return-to-work mandates, which have elicited a wide range of employee responses across the globe.

Industry leaders such as Apple and Amazon have implemented contentious office return policies. At the same time, remote-oriented businesses like Taskrabbit have taken a different approach, providing their staff the flexibility to utilize workspaces as needed—even without a central HQ. 

Another startling fact: 68% of executives think people should be on-site—three days a week minimum. And 65% judge office attendance as “very important” to increase worker productivity, with over 50% considering it essential for employee collaboration.

So, should you mandate people back to the office? What are the pros and cons of a return to mandate? Here at Setting HQ, we’ve been debating this topic long and hard, and have come up with a few solutions for your company based on our experience. 

What exactly does it mean to mandate employees back to the office?

An office mandate is when employers officially require or instruct their employees to work from a physical office location instead of working remotely or from home. Office mandates are formal workplace policies that employees are expected to adhere to, and most of the time, they're mandatory policies that all employees must follow and are not optional.

It’s no surprise that office mandates can be a significant shock to the system for employees, especially if they are used to working under flexible or hybrid working arrangements. This was the case with Apple, one of the first major players to announce the shift. In June 2022, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced a new hybrid work policy that required employees to work from the office three days a week, specifically on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. This marked a notable change from the company's previous policy, which had allowed for more flexible remote work arrangements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new policy was met with resistance from some Apple employees who had embraced the benefits of remote work, such as improved work-life balance and reduced commute times. A group of employees, calling themselves "Apple Together," expressed their opposition to the mandate, arguing that it failed to recognize the advantages of remote work.

What are the different types of office mandates?

As a business leader or manager, one approach you might consider is setting designated team days in the office. This hybrid workspace strategy involves establishing specific days for employees to work from the office while allowing them to work remotely on the remaining days. This is often called soft-mandating. 

The motivation behind this form of soft mandating often stems from a desire to encourage collaboration, creativity, and team cohesion, especially for tasks and activities that benefit greatly from in-person interaction. For instance, team meetings, brainstorming sessions, and strategic planning for the future are all examples of work that can be enhanced by face-to-face engagement.

Hard mandates, meanwhile, are the opposite. They're more stringent and often require employees to be in the office for a set number of days or hours each week, with little to no flexibility. This approach is often driven by a belief that in-person presence is essential for productivity, collaboration, and maintaining company culture.

For example, in May 2023, Elon Musk issued a hard mandate for Twitter employees, stating that they must work from the office for a minimum of 40 hours per week. The announcement came in the form of an email with the subject line "Remote work is no longer acceptable." Musk argued that this policy was necessary to foster a more cohesive and productive work environment, despite concerns raised by employees about the potential impact on their work-life balance and well-being.

Why are employees reluctant to come into the office?

Perhaps a key starting point is understanding why the workforce doesn’t want to come into the office. 

There are several reasons employees may be hesitant to return to a traditional office setting:

  1. Commuting: Many employees have grown accustomed to the time and money saved by not commuting during the pandemic. The thought of returning to long, stressful, and costly commutes can be a significant deterrent.
  2. Work-life balance: Remote work has allowed employees to better integrate their work and personal lives, providing more flexibility for managing family responsibilities, appointments, and leisure activities. Returning to the office may feel like a step backward in terms of work-life balance.
  3. Health and safety concerns: Despite vaccinations and safety measures, some employees may still feel anxious about the potential health risks associated with working near others.
  4. Productivity: Many employees have found that they are more productive when working from home, with fewer distractions and a more comfortable environment. They may fear that returning to the office will negatively impact their productivity.
  5. Autonomy and trust: Employees who have successfully worked remotely may feel that a return-to-office mandate signals a lack of trust in their ability to work independently and manage their time effectively.

The best of both worlds

When examining the mandates companies are implementing, you may notice a "carrot-and-stick" approach. "Stick" policies involve potential consequences for employees, such as pay reductions or limited advancement opportunities, while "carrot" policies offer incentives that, although well-meant, may not effectively address employees' concerns. One example of a "carrot" policy is Salesforce's initiative to make charitable donations in the name of employees who increase their office attendance, whereas JP Morgan’s hard mandate is an example of the “stick” policy.  

But it’s precisely here where companies can consider a hybrid approach. One way to strike this balance is by implementing a hybrid work model that combines remote work with in-office days. This allows employees to enjoy the benefits of working from home, such as reduced commute times and improved work-life balance, while still having opportunities for face-to-face collaboration and team building. 

Setting’s tip: Our experts are standing by to help you find, move into, or flexibilize your office space. Whether that means devising a new hybrid policy or building an office space to accommodate your working arrangements, we’re here to help! 

Still have questions?

We've got answers! Our  team is ready to assist you with any inquiries you may have. Feel free to reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

Remember, our consultations are always complimentary and come with no obligations.

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