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Bringing employees back: the power struggle for remote work

In August 2023, Zoom astounded observers across the world by disbanding their remote working policy. The decision mandated that employees who live within a 50-mile radius return to their offices for 2 days each week.

During the pandemic, Zoom emerged as a pinnacle of remote working. The conferencing platform facilitated flexible schedules for millions and remained an essential tool even as the world slowly eased back into normality.

This policy change is just one recent development in a wider trend; many large companies and brands are reassessing their flexibility and bringing employees back to the office.

What are their motivations, how are they enticing workers to return – and how do employees feel about these decisions?

Why are employers bringing remote workers back to the office?

In July, Business Insider published a regularly updated list of businesses that are now mandating their remote workers return to the office (RTO); including Amazon, Apple, BlackRock, Google and Meta among others. This list also included their reasons for doing so.

BlackRock’s Chief Operating Officer, Rob Goldstein and Head of HR, Caroline Heller stated the return to office was to increase career development through “teaching moments between team members,” which needed staff to be together in person.

Requiring employees to be in the office for three days a week, IBM CEO, Arvind Krishna addressed remote workers during an interview with Bloomberg. Krishna stated “in the short term you probably can be equally productive, but your career does suffer” and those seeking promotions needed to be in the office.

How do workers feel about returning to the office?

In February, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy announced a new RTO policy, igniting protests from workers who strongly disagreed with the decision. The ensuing wave of complaints represented a widespread reluctance to surrender WFH flexibility. Not just at Amazon, but many other businesses.

A second Amazon CEO, Tim Cook, stated that the decision was made to allow for easier collaboration and to strengthen the culture of the business through in-person work.

Creating a petition which asked Jassy and other members of leadership to reconsider, Amazon workers gained 30,000 signatures before receiving a response. The CEO stated that the return to the office was happening as planned and that if employees disagreed, it was “not going to work out for [them]” at the company.

In the same month as Amazon, Disney also announced their RTO mandate and received a similar response, with employees creating a petition which gained over 2,300 signatures.

Employee priorities: remote work vs perks, bonuses and promotions

Due to this widespread worker mentality, businesses that wish to mandate bringing employees back to the office are now in a position where they must negotiate alternatives or risk high rates of turnover.

If a business does opt to offer perks instead of remote working, persuading employees to return will require more than free snacks or a pool table. In a 2023 survey by Censuswide and Space32: 

  • 51% of respondents said they would forego extra employment benefits to keep the option to work from home
  • Of this figure, 17% favoured WFH over healthcare or gym passes.

 
Beyond this, many remote workers are aware that being out of the office can mean a lower salary or chance of promotion – yet they still prefer it.

  • 12% stated that they would give up a tenth of their salary in order to keep the ability to work from home
  • 11% said they would sacrifice their annual bonus, while another 11% would forego their next promotion. 

How businesses are enticing remote workers back to the office

Considering responses such as this, more innovative approaches may be the way forward. Monday.com demonstrated this way of thinking, with the remodelling of their office spaces to look more like “a friend’s living room.”

When opening their headquarters in New York City, Monday recognised that the NYC housing market meant many of their staff lived in limited spaces. When speaking about their vision, senior workplace designer Keren Reznik stated:

“We actually have the opportunity to do things in an office that you don’t necessarily have at home, especially if you live in a small New York apartment. (…) I think it instantly creates a very nice cozy feeling and atmosphere within you. That reduces anxiety.”

Other businesses have taken more drastic approaches. In the case of ad tech company, Constellation, beyond competitive salaries, paid time off and flexible working, employees are also offered perks such as a new Rolex, Botox, free haircuts and cash holiday bonuses with shopping trips to “luxury outlet malls”.

This type of solution isn’t always necessary. In April, Forbes recommended that employers offer flexible schedules in place of WFH; such as allowing an employee to clock in at 10 am and leave at 7 pm, or to work four 10-hour days instead of a full five-day week.

Other perks such as support with childcare fees or offering a creche can be highly favourable for employees with young children.

Distinct Recruitment 

In a recent report by Greenhouse, 58% of candidates surveyed favoured remote or hybrid work over in-office. 40% also responded that they would not apply for a role that doesn’t offer their preferred working model.

If your business is considering rolling out an RTO policy, our specialists can consult with you on the current perspectives of candidates in your market – and effective alternatives to attract them to your business. Contact our Nottingham specialists today.

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