Should You Mandate Your Staff Back to The Office?

Helena Sampayo
Helena Sampayo|

The demand for in-person working is on the rise. Over the past few years, companies have been itching to get their employees back together for that all-important in-person interaction.

For example, business giants like Apple and Amazon have issued “controversial” back-to-office mandates, whereas remote-first companies like Taskrabbit have empowered their employees to access workspace whenever needed, despite not having a company HQ.

Our Workspace Satisfaction Report revealed similar sentiments. We went out to 200+ business leaders in the UK to hear their thoughts on workspace strategy, and the survey highlighted some interesting results:

68% said they’d be shifting strategies over the next year — and of those companies ordering employees back into offices, 31% said they’d opt for a 2-day per week strategy. What’s more, CEOs are more likely to want an office mandate (79%) compared to workspace leaders (44%).

So, why are companies mandating return to offices? It’s not necessarily because CEOs see remote working as a complete negative. (We’re looking at you, Reed Hastings). One driving factor could be that money is wasted on an empty office, and they want a return on investment.

Below, Hubble outlines the key things to consider if you’re mandating staff back into offices. We also give some pros and cons to office mandates and offer alternatives to ensure you make the best business decision. Let’s go!

What does it mean to ‘mandate’ staff back into offices?

First things first, what does it mean to ‘mandate’ staff back into offices?

Simply put, an office mandate is where employers require or officially instruct employees to start working from the physical office rather than remotely or from home. This is not optional. Office mandates are a formal workplace policy that all employees must adhere to.

This could be a significant shock to the system for employees, especially if they were used to working under flexible or hybrid working arrangements. This was the case with Disney.

In January 2023, CEO Bob Iger issued a memo to Disney employees, announcing a shift in the media giant’s hybrid workplace policy. Instead of two remote work days per week, Disney issued a mandatory return to Disney offices four days a week.

Disney employees were quick to express frustrations with the new mandate. Soon after, a petition was created, which 2,300 workers signed in a clear protest against one of the strictest hybrid workplace policies since the pandemic started.

Flat-out mandating vs soft mandating

So, what Disney did here was something called ‘flat-out mandating’. It’s when an organisation issues a return-to-office policy with little to no room for flexibility or negotiation — and it’s often always met with employee frustration.

But, many of these ‘harsh’ mandates are born out of a need for better collaboration and communication. It’s understandable if CEOs are desperate to get their employees back into offices, especially if they’re spending money on office space and not seeing a return.

But to get to a happy medium, many companies are doing what’s called ‘soft mandating’.

‘Soft mandating’ involves creating an environment or culture that encourages individuals to behave in a certain way without explicitly requiring it. It’s a flexible and lenient approach to bringing employees back to work in person. For example, you could:

Set team days in the office

As a business leader or manager, you could decide to set team days in the office. This is a type of hybrid workspace strategy where employees have designated set days for office and remote work.

This form of soft mandating is often motivated by a desire to foster collaboration, creativity, or team cohesion — particularly for tasks and activities that thrive through in-person engagement. For example, team meetings, brainstorming sessions and strategising for the future.

Make office days about team building

Another way to gently encourage office attendance is to focus office days on team building.

By emphasising team-building activities and fostering a positive atmosphere through post-work drinks or game nights, you can provide a subtle incentive for employees to spend more time in the office.

“Belonging is such an innate need. We all have to belong to something, to someone, to an organisation, a team, or something, and everybody has their own different ways to belong.” — Florencia Tettamanti, People and Talent Lead at Primer.

The pros and cons of office mandates

So, now that we’ve covered the differences between flat-out mandates and soft mandates. Let’s briefly go through the pros and cons of each one — so you can feel confident in your choice.

Flat-out office mandates

Solid desk utilisation rates
Since employees are expected to work in the office, the likelihood of desks going unused drops significantly. With a flat-out office mandate, there’s no risk of experiencing “empty desk syndrome“.
Drop in employee flexibility
There’s an increased risk of being seen as inflexible and unsupportive of employees’ autonomy, freedom, and preferences. This can damage employee morale and make them feel as though their preferences aren’t considered.
Stronger collaboration
By issuing a flat-out office mandate, you’re giving employees access to a single physical environment where they can build organic connections. This means more opportunities for spontaneity and creative problem-solving.
Employee expenses increase
By requiring employees to come into the office most of the time, they’ll have to fork out on commuting and additional expenses. This may harbour feelings of dissatisfaction among employees who need to save money.
Company culture occurs more organically
A strict office mandate can help reinforce and sustain the company’s culture by bringing employees together in a shared physical space, fostering a sense of identity and belonging.
Talent retention challenges
In competitive job markets, strict office mandates may make attracting and retaining top talent challenging — especially when other companies are happy to let their employees work from anywhere, anytime.

Soft office mandates

Increased employee satisfaction
Soft office mandates allow for more flexibility, as employees can adapt their work environments to suit their needs. This can help promote employee satisfaction and a healthier work-life balance.
Potential for ‘presence bias’
If employees choose when they come into the offices, there is a small risk of unequal treatment. Those who regularly come in may be seen as doing more, whereas those working hard remotely may experience a lack of visibility.
Talent attraction and retention
Offering flexibility through soft mandates can make the company more desirable to a diverse range of top talent from different locations — helping to enhance recruitment and retention efforts.
Communication challenges
Soft mandates may lead to challenges in communication and collaboration, as employees working in different locations may find it harder to coordinate and communicate effectively.
Improved work productivity
Soft mandates help employees feel empowered to work in environments where they are most productive. This level of trust and autonomy can lead to higher rates of employee productivity.
Improved work productivity
Soft mandates help employees feel empowered to work in environments where they are most productive. This level of trust and autonomy can lead to higher employee productivity rates.

Discover the future of work with our FREE report

If you’d like to gain deeper insights into return-to-office mandates and the future of workspace, download The Workspace Satisfaction Report! It’s completely free and covers more key insights, such as:

  • The most popular workspace strategies: office, hybrid, or remote? 🏢 
  • Measuring employee satisfaction: Explore the methods leaders use to quantify employee happiness! 📊

and much, much more.

Don’t miss out; get the report to gain insights into 2023 office trends and beyond.

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