Compulsory Return to the Office

Our CEO has thrown a bit of a curve ball into the mix today, and has suggested that, after three years of successfully working to a very flexible hybrid model of working (1 - 2 days per week from the office and the rest of the week from home), he wants everyone to work 3 - 4 days each week from the office from October. His main reason for this is down to a (perceived) lack of team spirit and that other business owners he has spoken to recently have enforced a return to the office. He has shared his thoughts with the senior management team for further discussion later in the week, and so this has not yet been announced to the wider business.

Whilst I am not totally against this, and personally I enjoy working from the office as well as from home and can see the merits of hybrid working, I am worried about the wider reaction to this if it is indeed enforced. Our current hybrid working policy states at least one day from the office per week to be agreed with the line manager, or head of department, and therefore everyone has enjoyed a very flexible approach since we emerged from the pandemic.

Personally, I do not necessarily feel there has been a detrimental effect on 'team spirit' in all the time we have worked to this hybrid policy, and worry that this change in direction could be misinterpreted as a lack of trust from senior management (ie the CEO) and could lead to a hugely negative impact on engagement levels, morale and team spirit.

Has anyone else had experience of moving towards more office-based working in the last year or so, and if so, how did you communicate this in a positive way, and what steps did you take to ensure employee engagement levels were not jeopardised during the transition and afterwards?

  • This is a topic I personally feel passionate about, having experienced "the good, bad and ugly" of remote working.

    I reckon the sheer enforcement of a strict discipline around going back to office is enough t o make this unpopular, not to mention the economic impact on the household.

    That being said (as cheesy as it might sound) some activation does need to be put around "making the office great again". We noticed significant increases on days when there was an event planned in the office (e.g. CEO talking about half year results in the auditorium, drinks to celebrate a launch, a big farewell for a senior leader retiring etc.) By no means am I suggesting we convert our offices into some sort of an EXPO, but the social side of it does tend to bring in the traffic.

    Traffic then leads to renewed conversations. Renewed conversations lead to an increasing culture of face to face interactions. These then have the potential to manifest into meaningful networks that have facilitated so many innovations over the years that resulted in simple informal conversations. The pull factor of meeting someone to get things done more easily than otherwise, is a pretty strong pull factor.

    Often we forget what the office means for each individual, and I saw one of the responses here where someone suggested looking into employee surveys. Understanding the positioning of the office in the mind of the employee is key to kicking off what I mention as first bit.

    Hope this helps.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    13 Sep, 2023 14:05

    In reply to Safwan:

    Thanks for posting,  ... and welcome to our Community. Good calls, I think.

  • In reply to Melanie:

    We defined the reasons to be in the office

    That is such a good idea!
  • In reply to David D'Souza:

    Thanks for your input and insights David, and whilst no long term decisions have been made (our CEO is 'mulling it over'), perhaps a trial with feedback is the way to go, and then build from that. Interesting times ahead!
  • Not much to share other than my personal experience as an employee (without my HR hat on), as others have already highlighted many good points from the HR side.

    I was working at a company with very strict hybrid rules, the rules were 2 days max working remotely, 3 in the office. If you were sick, on holiday or at training/travelling for business for part of the week then this was "deducted" (for lack of a better word) from your 2 days of remote working first of all. Very much an office first approach and lack of flexibility/consideration of personal circumstances.

    I eventually moved to an organisation with a more flexible hybrid policy, however this was only followed by a small handful of employees, everyone else was either fully remote or hybrid but left to their own devices. It became clear very early on that there was little to no value in having the office space, those of us who did actually go to the office spent most of our time on teams calls due to the nature of the business. My own manager told me he saw no value of me going to the office but I needed to be seen to do so occasionally because we were officially hybrid unless your contract stated otherwise. Senior Leadership were never in the office.

    I now work for a company where we have actually closed our office and gone fully remote, and we are looking at running an all company event later in the year for everyone to meet face to face and intend to do this once a year at the moment as we recognise that it's nice for people to meet their colleagues in person every now and again but as a business we do not need an office space to function on a daily basis.

    I would say to make sure you're clear why the business needs people on site and if the CEO is going to force a return to the office on their teams that they themselves (and the rest of their senior leadership team) are prepared to follow the mandate and return to the office as well. If they are not willing to do so then they should carefully consider why they expect their teams to do so.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    17 Sep, 2023 13:36

    In reply to Gemma:

    More on this... 

    I think  expressed it succinctly in this thread last year:

    We expect [our employees] to be in as many or as few [days] as are necessary to do their job well. That varies from 0 to 5. Anything else just seems an arbitrary number

  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    20 Sep, 2023 16:15

    In reply to Steve Bridger:

    ...and another thread (from March 2023)...

     Removal of hybrid working for return to the office for 5 days... 

  • Any evidence backing up his decision? From this side of the table it sounds to an emotional decision, based on little to no evidence, and looking at what others do, which doesn't necessarily mean it's right. If we did thisin the Tech Sector, we'll lose our best talent.

    I keep observing this constant in many C-Suites where they take decisions and provide 0 evidence backing their decisions up... My 50 cents.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    21 Sep, 2023 11:37

    In reply to Nicolás Ivanhoe:

    Thanks for posting,  ... and welcome to our Community Slight smile

  • For everybody who's been wrestling with this one the latest CIPD Podcast 'Has working remotely killed organisational culture?' has just dropped.

    Danielle Harmer, CPO at Aviva, Kevin Lyons, Senior HR Manager at Pearson, and Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser (CIPD) flesh out the major considerations and talk through some of the practical solutions they've implemented. Some really valuable tips.


  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    3 Oct, 2023 09:09

    In reply to Derek Tong:

    Thanks,  ... I've embedded that link.

  • In reply to Alys Martin:

    It is definitely an on-going battle, as many teams are now comfortable with the choice to work with flexibility. A recent change on our team was to come into work on two core days of the week and to select a third day to be at the office. It was all going well until we were asked to permanently keep our third flexible day as a 'work from office' day, and hence, now come in to office on 3 consecutive days.

    Personally, I love coming into work, due to the social settings and being able to mingle with my colleagues, without moping around working from home, but I wish I was given the chance to choose my third working day, without having to abide by the hard-core 'third working day' rule. Many of my team mates feel the same.

    Post-Covid working life changed vastly, and I think employees need to gain insight into what their employees really need. Feedback, check-ins etc are vital to find out if new working routines work, or don't work, without blindly asking everyone to adhere to strict working from work policies.

    Do you all agree?