Return to office mandates that force a set number of days are often doomed to fail

I can’t say it enough – return to office mandates that force a set number of days are often doomed to fail. Even so, now that COVID public health emergencies have expired, companies are increasingly doubling down on mandates – and many are accompanied by “or else” threats.

Thankfully, the national media notices this trend. In an NBC Nightly News report last Thursday that focused on the “Return to Office Crackdown,” I shared the core problem with these threats in the simplest terms. Can you do it? Sure. But should you?

“You can mandate people coming back, and they may very well comply,” I said. “But that is not an engaged, purpose-driven, happy employee.”

A related story last week from The Washington Post’s Taylor Telford, “To fill offices, Google issues ultimatum while Salesforce tries charity,” discussed incentives employers are using to lure workers back, yet do nothing to answer the most important question: what will we do better onsite, together and what will we do when we are not?

“Many experts believe that office mandates aren’t enough to create stronger company cultures. Cali Williams Yost, a longtime flexible work strategist, said that many executives are ‘trying to avoid’ the hard work of figuring out how to make time spent together translate into meaningful connections, as opposed to simply ordering a certain amount of days in the office.”

As I told Taylor, some employees will comply because they don’t want to lose their jobs. But in no way does that lead to an engaged, focused and intentional way of working.

When will corporate leaders understand that neither mandates nor incentives to get employees back onsite in offices will work? I’ve seen trends come and go and worry as we move farther from the pandemic’s worst days that corporate leaders will fall back to failed work patterns. My hope, though, is that we grab this opportunity to foster a new era of strategic and intentional high performance flexibility, one in which we move past entrenched beliefs and reimagine the future of work.