Alternative Approach to RTO Mandates | Open Office Hours TOMORROW!

Looking forward to my first Open Office Hours in 2023! Join me tomorrow, Friday, 2/24 from, 12 to 12:30 pm EST.  Click the blue-button above for the Zoom link.

Open Office Hours are an informal opportunity for newsletter subscribers to ask questions, share insights, or just say “hi.”  If you are more comfortable sending questions in advance, please forward them to Alison Batten at  See you tomorrow!

Now to the most recent round of RTO mandates receiving headline-grabbing employee push back. What’s going on?  Why is it happening?  Is there a better way? Yes, there is.

What’s going on?

Two weeks ago, 2,300 employees signed a petition challenging Disney’s mandate to be in the office four days a week starting in March.  This week, 14,000 employees joined a Slack channel pushing back on Amazon’s mandate to be in the office at least three days a week.

And those are just the employees willing to publicly state dissatisfaction. There are likely more silent objectors behind them.

Why is it happening? 

Bottomline: After three years, we are emerging from a historic disruption of the traditional place-based operating model. Leaders, managers and employees need to get on the same page about work and performance–where it happens, when it happens or how it happens. Right now, they are not.

Previous one-size-fits-all, policy mandates haven’t resulted in meaningful, coordinated in person interaction.

Why? There usually wasn’t an execution process behind the policy rollout to help operating units answer the questions:

  1. What will we do on the days we are together and on the days we aren’t,
  2. When are we doing it, and
  3. Why?
The coordination and planning were just supposed to happen. Sometimes it did, but often it didn’t.

That is not sustainable. At the same time, doubling down on RTO mandates that incite employee resistance is not the answer either.

Is there a better way? Yes, there is, but it takes more effort. Right now, that’s what both sides are resisting. 

The goal should be to define, experiment with and optimize flexibility that works for the business and people.

To do that, we have to stop leading with WHERE, or days remote or in the office. Instead, start with WHAT, or “what do we need to do?”

For example, in the case of Disney, the “what” seems to be the need to be “creative—connect, observe,” and “grow professionally.” THEN with those strategic priorities front and center, teams would determine how, when and where the activities that support creativity and growth happen most effectively, including with more in-person interaction.

Guided by a consistent process, my experience is Disney’s creative teams would decide what they will prioritize doing when they are in person on average “x” number of days and what they will prioritize doing when they are not together. They may determine the optimal number of days in person could be four, perhaps three or even two.

The point is that THEY, the people closest to the work, have decided how, when and where that creativity and growth happens best making it more likely to actually happen.

It can seem much more efficient and fair to say, “come in three or four days a week.” But back-to-office mandates short circuit what can be a powerful and engaging next-level work optimization process. It’s a missed opportunity for the business and workers.

Finally, people will continue to value flexibility as much or sometimes more than salary. And, ultimately, we will likely land somewhere between 2-3 days onsite for those jobs that support some level of remote work.

What if we skip the “mandate phase” of this evolution toward the inevitable? Instead, agree to work together and reimagine how, when and where work will happen next.

It may seem like it takes longer and requires more effort, but it gets you farther faster.

One place to begin is by defining “flexibility?” In our thought-starter for the week, we shared our definition. What’s yours?