Return to the Office? A Complex Issue

March 7, 2023 David Witt

Many leaders believe that remote work undermines creativity and innovation. Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, gave the following explanation for requiring employees to return to the office four days a week: “In a creative business like ours, nothing can replace the ability to connect, observe, and create with peers that comes from being physically together.” Other leading companies have mandated return-to-the-office policies: Google (three days a week), Apple (three days a week), Starbucks (three days a week), and Twitter (five days a week). Some of the reasons given are serendipitous collaboration, the need to mentor younger employees, the desire to preserve corporate culture, and the value of spontaneous brainstorms. According to Blanchard® research, two-thirds of HR leaders believe it’s harder to create an engaging employee experience and culture in a remote or hybrid environment.

On the other hand, millions of frontline workers have become accustomed to working remotely and like this arrangement: 68 percent of Americans would prefer to be fully remote, with 23 percent willing to take a 10 percent pay cut to do so. Globally, 63 percent of workers surveyed said they would “absolutely” look for a new job if they couldn’t continue to work remotely.

A new point-of-view article by The Ken Blanchard Companies®, An Unvarnished Look at Asking Employees to Return to the Office, helps readers sort through the latest developments with return-to-the-office policies. The article examines the issue from both the employer and the employee perspective, recognizing that asking remote workers to return to the office is a complex issue.

Take a thoughtful approach

So how do you make the right decision that takes into account different perspectives? The Blanchard article suggests a three-step process.

  1. Check your motivation: Take an honest look at what’s driving your decision making. Have productivity and engagement declined? Has collaboration stalled? If the answer to these and similar questions is no, examine your assumptions. Ensure that issues of control and trust are not influencing you.
  2. Gather facts: Ask your people what they want and how important work logistics are, to understand what matters most to them. See what your competitors are doing. Research the effectiveness and challenges of remote work. Learn as much as you can about the subject before deciding.
  3. Do a cost-benefit analysis: Write down everything you stand to gain and everything you stand to lose. Which decision puts you and your company in a stronger position, now and in the future?

A look ahead

The stakes are high when companies call remote workers back to the office. This is an ideal time for executives to reimagine their business models instead of reflexively returning to what was, and thereby avoid unnecessary stress and conflict.

Whatever your organization decides, some version of hybrid is here to stay. AT&T predicts that hybrid working arrangements will increase from 42 percent in 2021 to 81 percent in 2024. According to Gallup, working onsite full time will become a relic of the past.

You can read the Blanchard point of view by downloading An Unvarnished Look at Asking Employees to Return to the Office. Also, consider joining Blanchard on March 15 for a complimentary webinar on Succeeding in a Hybrid Work Environment. The event is free, courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies.

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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