In 2023 we kept hearing “Remote work is dead”, and:
Now, the truth is that there is no such thing as a one-fits-all solution when it comes to how we do our best work.
Definitely, the pandemic managed to change some mindsets. We still have hybrid teams, or remote, teams, but there are still companies that consider that people are more productive in an office and focus on KPIs such as hours worked.
Now, there isn’t a correct answer for the productivity topic. This differs depending on the job type, on distractions around (office noise, kids playing in the room, etc.), and the character of the person doing the job. A person that is accountable in the office, might as well be accountable outside of it. Same goes for people who mimic work in the office, right?
Some people focus better in the office, some at home, because they managed to customize a comfy office in their house. Not everyone can afford to have one.
When it comes to managing remote or hybrid teams, other topics arise such as: proper management and communication, trust and discipline, a proper hybrid work policy. And, let’s be honest, not all managers are up to this. It’s a process. It takes time, adaptability, flexibility, and reiteration.
So, this can explain the huge amount of news in 2023 announcing the return to the office.
But, in most cases, this is a partial return. Many employees can still work from home at least once a week.
So, in this article we’re going to dig into the workplace strategies of 20 famous companies and see how they manage the return to the office, with the good and the bad.
How Meta, Amazon, and Many More are Getting Their Employees Back in the Office
Meta’s Return to Office
Meta’s return-to-office policy went into effect in September 2023, and it required employees to work from the company’s physical locations at least three days a week. There was an exception: employees that were hired remotely from the start.
Noncompliance could result in disciplinary action, including a lower performance rating or, if unaddressed, termination.
“We’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale”. This is what Mark Zuckerberg was saying back in 2020. He also said that new expenses, including bringing employees to headquarters for occasional “onsites” will likely make up for any money Facebook saves on reduced costs associated with real estate and employee salaries.
But this vision changed in March 2023, when Mark Zuckerberg said that: “Our early analysis of performance data suggests that engineers who either joined Meta in-person and then transferred to remote or remained in-person performed better on average than people who joined remotely. This analysis also shows that engineers earlier in their career perform better on average when they work in-person with teammates at least three days a week.”
Amazon’s Return to Office
Back in August 2023, Amazon’s employees had to get back to their offices at least 3 days a week. Noncompliant employees could face unemployment.
Next, employees received emails about their attendance. An internal dashboard displays how many days a week each employee comes into the office. Starting with October, managers were told they could begin firing employees who weren’t meeting the return-to-office requirements.
Amazon’s employees started pressing their executives for the reason behind their return-to-office mandate. It seems there was no data to justify it. Amazon executives believe that employees would work better together, in the office. And that’s that.
Zoom’s Return to Office Mandate
“We’re going to really try to be whatever you need us to be as your employer, whether you want to stay remote, whether you want to be in the office one or two days a week or a month, or whether you want to be one of those 60 people in the office every day.” This is what Lynne Oldham, chief people officer at Zoom, was saying back in 2021.
Fast forward to 2023, Zoom announced a “structured hybrid” policy, which requires employees who live in a 50 mile radius of an office to be in the office 2 days a week. Zoom nuanced its messaging saying that 65% of employees are still remote because many don’t live near an office.
Zoom faced a lot of resentment online because of this policy. Because Zoom itself is a tool that supports online remote collaboration, people were expecting Zoom to promote remote work more. Their policy somehow signalized a distrust in working-from-home. Certain news outlets were also announcing the death of remote work. But if you look at the policy again you can see that remote work isn’t dead inside Zoom.
Now, in order to adapt to the new ways of working, Zoom has opened the London Engagement Hub back in August 2023. Split into different zones, it includes 75 work points, ranging from library-style benches, touchdown spaces, agile tables for collaboration to traditional desks. All these spaces can be used with prior booking.
Everything was designed to encourage in-person connection and cooperation: creative furniture, community areas, formal gathering spaces, and quiet corners for calls.
Nike is Coming Back to Office 4 Days a Week
In February 2022, Nike announced its three-day in-office policy, which became effective in May 2022.
Starting with January 2024, the policy changed into four office days a week.
Amid quiet layoffs, and plans for a broader restructuring, no comments have been made about the workplace issues.
Disney’s Return to Office Policy Is Met with Disappointment
Back in January 2023, Disney announced that starting with March, employees are expected in their offices for 4 days a week.
According to CNBC, Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO, wrote in a memo that “As you’ve heard me say many times, creativity is the heart and soul of who we are and what we do at Disney. And in a creative business like ours, nothing can replace the ability to connect, observe, and create with peers that comes from being physically together, nor the opportunity to grow professionally by learning from leaders and mentors.”
2,300 Disney employees signed a petition asking Iger to reconsider the policy, according to Washington Post.
Sadly, very soon after the fact, Iger announced a cost-cutting strategy. This meant layoffs. The first round of staff reductions began March 27. A second wave followed the week of April 24, and the third one ended on May 26. A total of 7,000 people fired.
Amid layoffs anxiety, employees can no longer have a say, when it comes to how they work, right?
Now, let’s be clear, the layoffs are not connected to the return to office policy, it’s about cutting costs…
Apple’s RTO policy
It was 2022 when Tim Cook was saying this with regards to implementing remote work: “We’re running the mother of all experiments.”
That experiment did not seem to bring the expected results, so Apple employees must now be in the office at least 3 days a week. Failure to comply could result in termination.
Employees replied to the new policy with resentment and an open letter to Tim Cook and the other execs. But this did not change anything.
AT&T’s RTO strategy
In the summer of 2023 AT&T requested its 60,000 managers to get back to work in person, at least 3 days a week. This request comes with a twist: they need to be in one of 9 offices in the country, when, in fact, there are 350 offices in the country. AT&T also mentioned it wanted to reduce its office footprint, according to Bloomberg.
What does this mean? Roughly 15% of managers had to either relocate or quit. Now, this was perceived in the market as a masked layoff. If people quit on their own, the company does not need to pay any severance…
Deutsche Bank’s Flexible Return to Office Policy
The banking sector is pretty harsh about its work from the office policies. Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan are really blunt in their messages, urging employees to go to the office even 5 days a week.
Not the case of Deutsche Bank.
Back in 2021, its employees were invited to come back to the office and work on average around three days a week.
Fast forward, in May 2023, Deutsche Bank is seeking to cut office space by 40% as a result of a rising number of employees working from home. Almost two thirds of employees are working hybrid.
I order to adapt to a hybrid way of working, Deutsche Bank has designed its new HQ in New York having collaboration in mind.
Wanting to prove that “work isn’t only about the desk”, Gensler (Deutsche Bank’s design partner), included in the design multiple food courts, dining areas, bars, health and wellness facilities, mother’s rooms and even a pool hall, for use at night, that serves as a lounge during the day.
Ernst & Young Adds Commuter Benefits to Its Return to Office Strategies
EY expects its employees to build workplace where people work together in person between 40% and 60% of the time.
And, yes, we’ve seen this before…
But what E&Y did was listen to its employees and understand why they were so reluctant to come back to the office. Three answers were the most common: employees weren’t sure what to do about childcare or pet care, as well as how to handle their commutes.
So, Frank Giampietro, EY’s chief wellbeing officer, came up with a solution. It was early 2022 when Ernst & Young started the “EY way of working transition fund” that covered all commuting costs, all dependent care costs and all pet care costs for its U.S. employees. Furthermore, all of its 55,000+ US employees were able to ask for reimbursements on those costs an unlimited number of times.
EY rolled out the fund in February 2022, and has since seen a 150% year over year uptick in time spent together in the office, according to Giampietro.
Thumbs up for EY! Workplace policies should start from actual discussions with employees.
Citi Bank Uses Productivity Metrics to Get Unproductive Employees to the Office
Citigroup has a hybrid model in place, where colleagues are required to work at least three days per week in the office
Jane Fraser, CEO of Citi Bank, said that productivity is measured very carefully inside Citi. And this is why they can identify if employees are being unproductive, in order to get them in the office for coaching.
Ericsson’s Return to Workplace Policy
When the pandemic started, Ericsson’s management understood that business is no longer “as usual”.
Back then, 85% of our employees globally were working from home.
In April 2020, Ericsson started an internal project to look at how the future workplace for Ericsson could look like. Employees were involved in the conversations during roundtables and workshops.
Surveys were ran as well to understand what employees were dealing with while working from home.
As, Peter Laurin, Head of Managed Services, points out, most employees would like the opportunity to work remotely two to three days per week long term. At the same time, many employees miss meeting coworkers in the office. Others were feeling isolated and stressed, or even struggled with work-life balance.
All these needs were taken into consideration when shaping the hybrid work policy.
So, another thumbs up for Ericsson! This is how you start, by including employees in the conversation, by listening and trying to reach a win-win.
A year later, Ericsson redesigned and cut office space across 400 offices to accommodate hybrid work.
Ericsson employees are now expected to be 50% in office over a week or month.
Shopify’s Return to Office Plan
Shopify has one of the most flexible return to office strategies we’ve seen so far. Back in 2020 it embraced a fully-remote way of working.
“Office centricity is over,” was saying Tobias Lütke, Shopify’s founder and CEO.
Fast forward in 2023, Shopify announced a new Local Access Pilot at Toronto Port, where they will allow local employees access to the space for a maximum of 6 days a month. “Port” is how Shopify names its offices. The idea is that there will be a cap on the number of days workers could use the offices each month.
LinkedIn’s Back to Office Policy
In a memo leaked back in October 2023, Dan Shapero, LinkedIn’s COO, was asking hybrid employees to come to the office more often.
“I also want to reiterate our continued support for our remote employees, and we’re working on plans to help foster connection and invest in relationships,” Shapero wrote.
No other official statement was released in the meantime. But it seems that LinkedIn is not as aggresive as other companies when it comes to getting employees back in the office.
Furthermore, LinkedIn’s new headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, was designed with a focus on hybrid work. This shows that LinkedIn really believes in the power of hybrid work. The office was designed with areas with different purposes, ranging from focused individual work to social events. The layouts are flexible enough to accommodate a diverse workforce that embraces both a more relaxed and inclusive professional atmosphere.
The meant replacing individual desks with a range of solo and collaborative workspaces (fully private rooms, neighborhoods, nooks along hallways, coworking spaces, etc.). The design planning started before the pandemic, and it was supposed to accommodate 1,080 desks. Then, the focus on hybrid work slashed that nearly in half.
Microsoft’s RTO Strategy
Microsoft’s return to office strategy states that employees can work from home up to 50% of the time without manager approval. No specific days are mentioned. It’s up for the employees and their managers to decide when it’s time for face-to-face encounters.
Microsoft’s leaders conducted a research in order to understand when it’s important for employees to come together in-person to build the relationships that they need.
So, they realized which are those “moments that matter” when it comes to being in the office. Here’s the shortlist: onboarding, team-building, and the launch of new projects or initiatives.
And we couldn’t agree more 😊.
Dell’s Strategy for Getting Employees to Their Offices
An internal memo from Dell Technologies, on behalf of Jeff Clarke, Vice Chairman and Co-Chief Operating Officer was saying “We look forward to those near an office coming in at least three days a week as soon as you can arrange it”.
Interestingly, Dell embraced hybrid work way before the pandemic. I mean, look at their hybrid work policy here. It was 2013 when they set up their 2020 goal like this: “50% of our workforce to work flexibly”. And this goal was surpassed.
So, cheers to Dell, and its foresight!
General Motors Return to Office
General Motors is requiring its corporate staff workers to join their offices at least 3 day a week (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays) starting with 2024.
“We believe the benefits of in-person collaboration and mentorship lead to a stronger, more innovative culture and higher performance.”, said CEO Mary Barra.
The policy applies to hybrid employees living within a 50-mile radius of a major GM hub in Southeast Michigan, Austin, Texas; Atlanta; and Northern California.
RTO Mandates inside IBM
IBM’s software division employees living within 50 miles of an office globally must be physically present for at least three days a week. The exact days were not specified, this is a decision left to managers and individual project teams. The announcement went live in September 2023.
Now, the worrying news is this one: IBM expects that, gradually, over the next 5 years, machines will potentially take over up to 30% of noncustomer-facing. This will affect employees in finance, accounting, HR and other areas.
Uber’s Return to Office Is Friendlier
On the Uber blog there’s this statement: “At Uber we’ve embraced a hybrid work model, where most employees spend at least half of their work time in the office, with Tuesday and Thursday as ‘anchor days’ across the company.”
The return to offices started on November 1st, 2022.
Uber admits that having time to work remotely has benefits for individual productivity as well as balancing work/life demands. Also, when people work in the office regularly, they are more engaged, have a stronger sense of belonging and report overall higher satisfaction with work. This is their conclusion from employees’ feedback.
Google’s Return to Office Policy
Google’s employees started to return to their offices as early as September 2021, at least 3 days a week.
In 2023, a Google spokesperson said: “Since returning to the office, we’ve run pilots and conducted surveys with Cloud employees to explore different hybrid work models and help shape the best experience. Our data show Cloud Googlers value guaranteed in-person collaboration when they are in the office, as well as the option to work from home a few days each week. With this feedback, we’ve developed our new rotational model, combining the best of pre-pandemic collaboration with the flexibility and focus we’ve all come to appreciate from remote work, while also allowing us to use our spaces more efficiently.”
Google employees started sharing desks amid office downsizing as well as layoffs.
Salesforce Employees Are Back in the Office at Least 3 Days a Week
It was February 2021, when Brent Hyder, Salesforce’s former chief people officer, wrote that “the 9-5 workplace is dead”. This meant that Salesforce would allow some of its employees to work fully remotely, even after it was safe to return to office.
In June 2023, Salesforce incentivized employees to return to the office by offering a $10 charity donation for each day an employee worked in person.
Few months later, this policy gets adjusted. Salesforce was joining other companies such Amazon, Google, and Meta to get employees back in the offices.
Its RTO policy says that non-remote employees need to go into the office three days a week. Non-remote and customer-facing employees have to go in four days a week. Engineers, on the other hand, only have to work from the office 10 days each quarter.
The Challenges of Return to Office Mandates
By the end of 2023 more and more companies started asking their employees to come back to their offices at least 3 days a week.
Some companies are more lenient, others are using firing threats, or saying that noncompliance can affect their employees potential promotion.
Yes, the return to office poses challenges.
Here are some of them:
- The vast majority of employees is reluctant to come back to office. They feel that if the activities done in the office can be done outside of it, there’s no point in going back to their offices. On the other hand, they recognize the value of face-to-face encounters in certain situations such as: onboarding, teambuilding, brainstorming, project planning, etc. Also, they feel that the commutes are not worth it, and that they need a better work/life balance.
- The return to office mandates are not looking at individual situations. For example, certain policies require non-remote employees that live 50 miles from the office to go to their offices. Remote employees stay remote. So, non-remote employees don’t see the difference…
- When threats are involved in the return to office mandates employees no longer feel values, they feel dispensable.
- Some policies were built on the “Because I say so” reasoning, not on actual data. This makes employees not feel valued… again. And this also increases furthermore the hostility between upper management and employees.
Yes, office encounters have their value. We cannot deny that. But, the return to office policy should look at data, should look at the employees feedback and concerns.
Every employee’s situation is unique, and organizations should consider individual circumstances when creating return to office plans. Flexibility in remote work options, phased approaches, and accommodations for employees with specific needs can foster inclusivity and support a smooth transition.
At the end of the day, many workers would easily agree with hybrid work arrangements, as long as they are transparent, and they take care of employee’s needs.
Working-from-home arrangements come with several benefits for companies and communities, studied by Stanford’s researcher Nick Bloom:
- The rise of remote work makes it easier for firms situated in high-wage areas to recruit staff in areas with lower wages.
- Quit rates and turnover costs fall when a firm lets its employees adopt hybrid working arrangements (Bloom, Han, and Liang 2023). And standard economic models imply that
- According to the Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes (Barrero et al. 2020–2023), on average, Americans value the option to work from home two or three days a week at 8 percent of pay.
- New job opportunities arise for people who work remotely from economically depressed areas, for people with mobility impairments that make it hard to commute.
Sadly, the negotiation power of employees is lower now than ever, because of the massive amount of layoffs that happened in 2023.
But, we’re pretty sure that employees will take their voice back, and employers will need to sit, listen, and adapt their policies to make it a win-win.