Navigating return-to-office mandates in 2024

When the Covid pandemic emerged, most of the corporate world switched to remote working, which has swiftly and drastically changed the existing ways of work. 4 years since then and more and more companies have started introducing the return-to-work mandates, which have been met with a variety of reactions from workers worldwide. 

Navigating the return-to-work mandates requires careful consideration and some are voicing that it might lead to more inequality in the workplace. As the debate on office days continues, we delve into practical insights for navigating these challenges.

Are return-to-work mandates discriminatory or do they potentially foster inequality?

Whenever ‘mandates’ are discussed, it must be done carefully, as these conversations often neglect individual considerations. In approaching office mandates, we advocate for businesses to set up guardrails, guiding principles, and clear business expectations. Thoughtful and collaborative creation of office expectations is of great significance. Companies must delve into the ‘why’ behind decisions before introducing new working structures and mandating employee actions. Equally important is the careful communication of these decisions to employees.

Reflect on the necessity of mandating processes and whether they genuinely align with desired outcomes. Taking the time for effective communication, citing reasons such as data revealing a drop in productivity, encourages employee cooperation and eliminates surprises. As with any mandate, individual circumstances must be taken into account. By factoring in individual circumstances, you create room for individuals to work with their respective teams or managers on a more equitable solution. Companies need to grasp that the workforce has undergone fundamental changes; a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer viable.

What will employers be hoping to achieve re office attendance in 2024?

Employers value knowledge sharing as one of the primary benefits of in-office attendance, even more so than collaboration. This transfer of knowledge happens organically, akin to osmosis, as employees absorb information from conversations or micro-meetings before official meetings. Even seemingly small office interactions can yield valuable insights. Additionally, having workers in the office facilitates the establishment of clear boundaries and appropriate work behaviour.

There is also a tightly held belief that having everyone in the office enhances team efficiency. The root of this lies in the importance employers place on time, as remote work can cause work delivery timelines to seem uncertain. With all employees in the office, businesses believe they can communicate timelines more effectively, work collaboratively, and receive timely status updates.

Despite this, some of TDC Global’s clients have reported increased employee engagement with remote work, indicating that these benefits can be achieved with a hybrid or remote model. It’s essential to recognise that each organisation is unique and influenced by factors such as culture, industry, and geographical location.

Will there be more of a trend to 4 days or even 5 days in the office?

In the evolving landscape of office attendance, there is no unified response; it’s increasingly fragmented. As we navigate the spectrum of this debate, with points of view on each end representing various industries, the status quo is expected to endure throughout 2024. From media agencies embracing 100% remote work to financial services demanding office presence 4-5 times a week, most workers will likely find themselves somewhere in between, creating an almost bell curve. In the face of a potential norm of a mandated 5-day office week, most workers have already rejected that notion.

Tips for navigating the return-to-office mandate

  • While it’s reasonable for employers to set requirements for their employees, adopting an equitable approach is crucial. This doesn’t imply that everyone must be the same but that fairness aligns with individual needs.
  • Clearly communicate the ‘why’ behind the importance of office attendance to employees. This open dialogue prevents businesses from settling on an undesirable compromise. The management team should reach a consensus and then gather employee sentiment on office attendance to find a balanced solution that doesn’t leave either group unsatisfied.

Written By Sarah Liu, the Founder & Managing Director at TDC Global.


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