How To Avoid An Employee Revolt With Your Return-to-Work Policy

by Rebecca Symmank on June 1, 2021
How To Plan A Safer Workplace Now And In The Future

After Washingtonian CEO Cathy Merrill published an editorial warning employees that their jobs could be in jeopardy if they continued to work from home, the backlash was swift.

Employees launched a full-day protest, refusing to publish anything on the magazine’s website or social media channels.

“We want our CEO to understand the risks of not valuing our labor,” they tweeted.

While it’s a prime example of what leaders should avoid in their return-to-work policy, it’s not unreasonable to want employees to come back to the office.

Here’s how to enact a return to work policy without causing widespread anger.

When does a return-to-work policy hurt your company culture?

When it makes threatening statements

The crux of Merrill’s argument was that employees who work in the office take on extra responsibilities, including “helping a colleague, mentoring more junior people, celebrating someone’s birthday — things that drive office culture.”

When employees aren’t in the office to participate in those events, she wrote, “management has a strong incentive to change their status to ‘contractor.’”

This would mean paying them hourly or based on their performance while eliminating health insurance, retirement contributions, and other benefits.

While it’s true that the office is an important hub for company culture, it’s far from the only defining attribute.

Your company policies, including policies that focus on the return to work, and the example of your leadership team are both essential in setting expectations for how you’ll work together.

And you certainly don’t need to be in the office to mentor a colleague or acknowledge someone’s birthday.

When it makes assumptions about employee work habits

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has begun rolling out his return-to-work policy for US employees, with the goal of having at least half the workforce back in the office in rotating shifts by July.

The pandemic accelerated a trend toward working remotely, but “it does not work for younger people,” he said in a recent CNBC article. “It doesn’t work for those who want to hustle, it doesn’t work in terms of spontaneous idea generation.”

However, Dimon noted he is still allowing employees to work remotely depending on their roles.

A good return-to-work policy should allow for that flexibility. While half of all Millennial and Gen Z employees said it was harder to avoid distractions while working from home, according to Gensler research, many employees report being just as productive or even more productive while working remotely.

Focus on the individual and their performance, rather than assuming everyone of a certain age should work a certain way.

When the return-to-work policy is unfairly applied

The ability to work remotely is still a privilege, not a right. However, without a clear remote work policy and guidance from your leadership team on how to apply it, you could run into accusations of favoritism. Worse, you could face wrongful termination lawsuits.

If you are allowing employees to continue working remotely for any reason, they need to be held to the same standards as everyone else, including those whose roles may require them to work in the office.

If an employee is not meeting expectations regardless of where they work, managers need to give them clear feedback.

What do the best return-to-work policies have in common?

They give employees flexibility

GM CEO Mary Barra recently announced the company’s return-to-work policy for non-manufacturing employees in just two words:

Work appropriately.

This means that where the work permits, employees have the flexibility to work where they can have the greatest impact on achieving our goals. The notion behind this approach — that our employees are capable of making smart decisions without overly prescriptive guidance — is the same notion behind our dress code, ‘dress appropriately.’

-Mary Barra, on LinkedIn

In addition to hiring more manufacturing employees and providing additional technology to give them more flexibility, the company is also hiring some employees for entirely remote positions.

They offer guidelines

While a two-word policy sounds like a dream for employees and HR leaders, no two organizations are alike, and your workforce might need more guidance.

With over 135,000 employees all over the world, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai has acknowledged the challenges of working entirely remotely. Google’s campuses are among the best examples of engaging, collaborative workplaces, and it’s not surprising that most employees want to return to work in them.

At the same time, they also enjoy the flexibility of working remotely a few days a week.

Pichai announced Google is adopting a hybrid work week where most employees will spend three days in the office and two days working wherever they are most productive. Some employees can still apply to work entirely remotely, depending on their role and the needs of their team.

Google is also giving employees more options to apply to work in other offices throughout the world if they’d like.

These changes will result in a workforce where around 60% of Googlers are coming together in the office a few days a week, another 20% are working in new office locations, and 20% are working from home.

-Sundar Pichai, in a recent company blog.

Google will also offer new company perks for its hybrid workforce, including “work-from-anywhere” weeks to accommodate vacations and travel, and extra “reset days” to help employees recharge after the stress of the pandemic.

They make necessary updates to support their hybrid workforce

While a hybrid work policy gives your employees more flexibility and has the potential to reduce real estate costs, there can be unintended consequences.

One challenge with leaving the decision entirely up to employees is that you may never know who is coming into the office and when. As a result, some employees may come in hoping to collaborate with team members only to discover the office is mostly empty.

This can create an inconsistent experience for both employees and visitors. (Consider a job candidate who comes into the office for an interview hoping to interact with future colleagues and is disappointed when no one is there.)

Your office could also become overcrowded on other days, especially if you hire more employees with the assumption that they won’t need assigned seats.

To create the best possible experience for everyone, you need to actively manage your hybrid workplace.

One way to do this is to implement technology that makes it easy for employees to reserve desks or rooms in advance. Desk booking software gives them the flexibility to choose when they come to the office and where they sit while giving your facilities team valuable workplace analytics.

In hybrid workplaces, employees also need to find each other and get support when they need it. A mobile workplace app keeps them connected to the people, places, and services they need to be productive.

How can iOFFICE help?

As you reopen your office, it’s a good time to update your workplace policies and ensure they’re in line with your new strategy.

We know we’re not returning to a new normal, but a new frontier that is constantly changing. That’s why our return-to-work solutions help make your workplace safer now and more flexible in the long term.

That includes space management software that not only helps you plan safer workplaces, but also integrates with occupancy sensors so you can see how employees are using your real estate and plan accordingly.

It includes a visitor management system to help you screen employees and visitors and reservation software to enable flexible seating during the return to work.

And with a workplace app, employees can find people and places, reserve space, request service, and more from the palm of their hand.

Learn more about how it can help you build a better workplace for the future. Get a free 15-minute consultation.


Rebecca Symmank

As a member of the Business Development team for iOFFICE, Rebecca is spirited and is quick to take initiative. Previously a customer and daily user of the IWMS provider, she has extensive experience on both the front and back end structure of the product. Rebecca's enthusiasm for facilities management and her tangible experience in the field give her an unprecedented understanding and perception of iOFFICE customers. Rebecca is able to relate to organizations implementing on IWMS, and has a unique perspective on what makes the experience a success.

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