Sep 7, 2022 - Economy

Companies gamble with new return-to-office mandates

Illustration of an office chair with the backrest shaped like a speech bubble

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Companies are rolling the dice on new return-to-office mandates.

Why it matters: There is very little room for error. People still have varying risk tolerances for COVID-19. Plus leaders risk alienating workers who are already increasingly disengaged and “quiet quitting.”

State of play: Businesses large (Goldman Sachs, Jefferies, Apple, Peloton, Comcast) and local are starting to require some form of in-office schedule after Labor Day.

  • And unlike last year when COVID outbreaks disrupted similar plans, companies are feeling more confident about the new approach.

Details: Goldman Sachs has told employees to speak with their managers to make sure they’re adhering to “current return-to-office expectations,” CNBC reported.

  • The company also lifted its COVID requirements (including wearing face coverings) in most offices in response to new federal health guidance.
  • Jefferies says “everyone” needs to be back in offices “on a consistent basis” — “as long as COVID continues to be manageable.”
  • Comcast, which has required U.S.-based cable and corporate employees to be in the office three days a week, said in a memo that “in-person interaction … is core to our company and culture.”

The big picture: Efforts to get people back have failed before and data shows workers prefer remote work.

  • The pandemic firmly established new patterns for remote work while creating a tight labor market that has emboldened workers to flex their newfound power at will. 

What they’re saying: “It's compromising some of the autonomy that was created during COVID,” Courtney McCluney, a social scientist and workplace advisor and researcher, tells Axios.

  • Taking away job autonomy would be a “disservice,” she added.
  • Yes, but: Although workers at places like Apple are protesting policies, McCluney doesn’t foresee huge turnover.

💭 Our thought bubble: Each worker ultimately has to decide what they want out of life and adjust (or not) their work circumstances accordingly. Employers, meanwhile, have to decide how much they want to enforce their policies and what they're willing to give up if employees actually violate mandates.

What we’re watching toward year-end: Office occupancy rates and executive commentary on attendance.

Go deeper