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Return-to-Office Mandates: Power Play or Productivity Push?

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree June 09, 2024

We've all heard it: "You can't do serious work in pajamas." It sounds like an outdated mantra, a relic from an era when "clocking in" and "clocking out" meant everything. But here we are, post-pandemic, where the battle lines over remote work have never been clearer. Today, I share the findings of a new paper studying the impact of 137 return-to-office mandates on the performance of firms. For once and for all, it's time to end the working-from-home debate.

Return-to-office mandates: Why?

Let’s call it like it is. The drive to bring employees back to the office isn't about boosting productivity.

It’s about control.

The push for return-to-office mandates stems from a need for managers to reassert their dominance.

It’s a classic power move wrapped in the guise of "increased productivity."

A recent study by Ding and Ma shows that firms with poor prior stock performance are more likely to enforce a return-to-office policy.

Why? Not because working from home is hurting the bottom line, but because it's a convenient scapegoat.

Blame the workers, not the management—classic deflection.

Even though it's an overly simplified deflection, is there any truth in it?

Does working from home hurt performance?

Ding and Ma's study reveals no significant improvement in financial performance after demanding people to come back to the office.

The supposed link between office presence and improved firm performance is largely a myth.

So, what’s actually driving these decisions?

Ego and outdated managerial instincts. The research indicates that firms led by male CEOs with a penchant for power are more inclined to impose such policies.

It’s less about making smart business decisions and more about a misplaced sense of control and distrust.

And it gets worse...

The future of work is flexible, and the companies that embrace this will attract and retain top talent.
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Return-to-office hurts employee satisfaction

Here’s the kicker: forcing employees back into the office makes them miserable. The study highlights significant declines in job satisfaction and work-life balance.

Employees cherish the flexibility of remote work.

The pandemic proved that people can be productive from anywhere, and ripping that away is like kicking them in the teeth.

The result? Increased dissatisfaction and a potential talent drain as disgruntled employees seek more accommodating employers.

The numbers don't lie.

One of the examples comes from Amazon's revolt. Over 5,000 employees signed a petition against the company’s return-to-office mandate.

When the people who make your business run are rising up, it's a clear sign that something’s off. Yet, the managerial elite seems to be in denial.

Nearly a quarter of managers admitted that their return-to-office decisions were based on gut feelings rather than solid data. It’s a shocking admission in an age where data-driven decisions should be the norm.

A smarter way forward

So, what’s the alternative? Companies like Spotify, Airbnb, and Atlassian are leading the charge by sticking with remote or flexible work models. They recognize the value of flexibility and trust their employees.

These companies are thriving, proving that the office isn’t the magical productivity booster some managers think it is.

The future of work is flexible, and the companies that embrace this will attract and retain top talent.

Return-to-office mandates don't work

Return-to-office mandates are a corporate charade. They’re about control, not productivity. The evidence is clear: it doesn't boost firm performance but does tank employee satisfaction.

It’s time for companies to wake up. Flexibility isn’t a perk; it’s the new standard. Firms need to adapt or risk becoming relics of a bygone era, losing their best talent to more progressive organizations.

The choice is stark: evolve or die.

The era of rigid office mandates is over—adapt now or get left behind.

Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
As co-founder of Corporate Rebels I focus on: researching, writing, speaking, and building our company.
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