Time to Ditch Return to Office Mandates

It’s 2023, and many business leaders are announcing that this is the year they expect employees to return to the office. For the most part, the ripples of the COVID-19 pandemic have stilled, and organizations who shouted “new normal” back in 2021 want their old normal back. 

Will employees take these Return To Office (RTO) mandates in their stride, and give up their work-from-home setups with ease? Or will it be organizations who need to think twice? 

Why Do Businesses Want Employees Back in the Office? 

The arguments against remote work are a tale as old as time. For many businesses, having workers in the office is synonymous with productivity, communication, and raised output. The traditional thinking is that if managers can’t physically see office workers taking their 15-minute coffee break and getting back to the grindstone, how can they know that they aren’t taking advantage? Many companies also feel that staff simply need face-to-face meetings in order to avoid miscommunication or disconnects. 

How Have Return to Office Mandates Played Out So Far?

It doesn’t sound totally unreasonable, so let’s look at some of the companies who have released back to office mandates to see how the landscape is playing out so far. 

Apple’s announcement that employees should return to the office three days each week led to a petition from more than 1,000 employees, and the very public quitting of the Head of Machine Learning, who left to join Google – a company well-known for its leniency on remote working. GM is another example of a RTO mandate gone wrong, with an announcement in September that triggered such a great backlash that it was almost immediately postponed. 

Research teams at Korn Ferry describe RTO mandates as a “tug of war” between employers and employees. As employers dictate how often they want workers at their desks, employees respond by calling in sick, using more vacation days, coming in reduced hours such as 10-3, ‘Quiet Quitting’ (where they do the bare minimum in their roles), or even just working from home in clear defiance of policy. 

How far are HR teams and C-suite leaders willing to push their RTO mandates? If employees won’t comply, are businesses willing to lose talented staff and watch retention levels plummet over getting feet under desks? 

What if Workers Won’t Come Quietly?

Many employers may need to accept that RTO mandates are not going to be enough to get employees back into the workplace. 76% say they don’t want to return to full-time office work, and 64% say that they would rather quit and look for something else than give in. 

If your business is struggling to get employees in the office, it might be time for you to shift your perspective instead. Reimaging your workforce to accommodate those who don’t want to be in the office full time could look like: 

  • Going remote-first: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! The hybrid nature of having some employees in the office while others are at home may be causing the disconnect. If you allow all employees to work from home, you could solve this problem. If everyone is using web conferencing, communication tools like Slack and Yammer, and handling multiple time zones – this can be far easier than accommodating a core number of employees who are working remotely. 
  • Adding feedback and communication channels: Many companies have been resisting remote working tools, as they are still waiting for the traditional office dynamic to return. Using processes for in-office work now that remote working is a reality is like forcing a square peg into a round hole. Think about adding mandatory 1:1s between managers and employees, weekly catch-up emails, and digital communication tools for anyone who is primarily working from home. 
  • Set very clear expectations: Think about what scares you about allowing employees to work remotely. Are you concerned about productivity levels? Output? Being able to get your staff to commit? Studies have shown that 77% of those who work remotely show increased productivity over their work in the office. Make your expectations clear on output and availability, and question your negative feelings about WFH. You might be surprised. 

You Might Uncover Unexpected Benefits from Ditching the RTO Mandates

No-one planned for the COVID-19 pandemic, but it would be a mistake for businesses to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Embracing the remote working reality where possible doesn’t just make employees happy, it can also add a lot of benefits to your business model. 

One great example is the ability to hire freelancers and have them feel like a true extension of your team. While traditionally independent contractors were often the only ones out of the office, and struggled to integrate, when you have a remote working policy that’s the norm, freelancers find it much easier to communicate and connect to the rest of the staff. This could be by using the same processes and systems for communication and tracking, joining virtual meetings, or the sheer fact that workers are more likely to be online at off-hours, just like freelance talent. 

Suddenly, businesses can use flexible working arrangements to create a talent management strategy, and take advantage of more effectively hiring freelancers, who often have niche talent and expertise, and a greater drive and enthusiasm for their work. This may be a welcome balm to the ‘Quiet Quitting’ and low morale trends seen lately in full-time employees. Alongside guaranteed autonomy and flexibility over where they work, this could even encourage other workers to regain their lost passion. 

Interested in managing freelance talent more effectively across your business? Speak to us about a demo of Fiverr Enterprise’s Freelance Management System.

Written by
Fiverr Enterprise