RTO Mandates are usually accompanied by declarations from executives about the need to be together, but to do what?

The return to office (RTO) mandates keep coming while the most important questions that determine how, when and where we do our best work are not being asked or answered.

This time it’s AT&T’s requirement that managers will be in the office three days a week. I shared my thoughts about this with The Washington Post’s Taylor Telford for her article, “AT&T is the latest big firm mandating that workers to come to the office.”

Taylor writes:

“Return-to-office mandates are usually accompanied by declarations from executives about the need to be together for collaboration and a strong company culture. But mandates don’t necessarily achieve these effects on their own, according to Cali Williams Yost, a flexible-work strategist.

“’It actually doesn’t solve the fundamental, underlying problem, which is, how do we plan the in-person interactions that actually have meaningful impact on the business and people?’ Yost said. ‘Just defining the days you need to come into the office does not do that.’”

What’s needed is to clarify up front how teams will execute the activities that effectively drive collaboration and culture when being onsite and in person on required days. Otherwise, employees will feel like they’re doing the same work they believed they did just as well remotely.

Whether it’s “anchor” days or a set number of days in office, RTO mandates generate confusion and resistance. They’re often doomed to fail before they even take effect because employees fail to see why they need to be in the office and organizations fail to clearly define how on-site work supports stated purposes or goals.

Three years after the pandemic’s crisis-driven shifts, the way we work is forever changed and employers and employees are not on the same page about how, when, and where we work going forward.
(See clash of work/performance contexts https://lnkd.in/e_vZQTts.)

Now is the time to take this challenge as an opportunity for teams and leaders to ask together “What do we need to get done?” And then determine how, when and where that work best gets done.

When we start with those questions, we:

  • Stop wasting resources trying to “go back” to a work model that was fast becoming outdated even before COVID.
  • Ensure time together in person is intentionally optimized to meet the needs of the business and the people.
  • Understand flexibility is not an HR problem or a list of perks, but a strategic investment that fosters performance, engagement and well-being.
  • Move toward a new era of strategic and intentional high performance flexibility, one in which we move past entrenched beliefs and see leaders and employees working together to reimagine the future of work.

The work must always be the anchor, not the days in office. Because the work we’re doing outside of the office – whether at home or a client site or any remote location – is equally as important as the work we do together, and both should be in service of both the business and its people.