4th Mar 2024
3 Min Read

Forcing people back to the office? Companies should think again

Lindsay Kohler
Lindsay Kohler
Culture & Insights

This article was first published by Forbes on 20 February 2024.

Work realities are shifting, both in what employees expect from their employer and how they want to work. Unfortunately, many aren't getting what they need due, in part, to leaders who are forcing people back into the office. Deutsche Bank is the latest company to make the news for toughening its work-from-home policies, but these headlines are becoming the norm versus the exception.

Deloitte's 2024 Human Capital Trends report challenges businesses to evolve if they want to thrive in a boundaryless world of work — but that requires a healthy dose of trust and letting go of old models of what work should look like. Art Mazor, Deloitte's Global Human Capital Practice Leader, believes that to overcome the gap between knowing and doing, leaders will need to let go of the mindsets, operating constructs, and proxies of the past.

"As leaders create policies around returning to a physical office, they should consider both the work that needs to be done as well as worker preferences," says Mazor. "And before organizations can consider where the work should be done, they must first understand what that work is and what that work requires. Only then can they design the most suitable workplace model."

Many companies seem to be skipping that key strategic step and defaulting to return-to-office policies that make little to no sense given the data linking remote and hybrid work to productivity. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, 85% of leaders say the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that workers are productive.

Culture is a convenient cover for distrust

According to the Deloitte report, 60% of leaders say the pandemic improved workplace culture. So why is culture being used as a key reason for leaders calling on their people to return to a physical office?

In short, it's easier to say that it's important for people to be onsite for the sake of maintaining culture than it is to tell your people that you don't trust them.

The real power of culture lies in embracing micro-cultures on the team level — and that includes where and when people work. "One size does not fit all when it comes to culture," says Mazor. "Instead, companies should foster micro-cultures that are better tailored to the teams working within the organization." According to the report, companies that embrace micro-cultures are 1.8 times more likely to achieve positive human outcomes and 1.6 times more likely to achieve desired business outcomes.

"We believe that organizational leaders, managers, and employees should co-create how they are going to work," says Mazor.

Rebuilding trust to rebuild how we work

From the employee perspective, the lack of trust likely stems from not believing that the organization has their best interest at heart. On the employer side, it usually comes down to transparency and visibility.

"Trust is the unseen glue that helps hold the relationship between organizations and workers together," says Mazor. "Employee trust is lower than it has been in the past for several reasons. It could be from turbulence from outsourcing decisions that have been made; mergers; downsizing; shifting business models; or digital transformation — all of these are grounds for creating distrust amongst workers."

Return-to-office mandates are another large driver of eroding trust. According to Gartner, intent to stay was 16% lower amongst high performers who received a return to office mandate. One reason for this is that it serves as a signal that a business doesn't trust its best people to get the job done.

"Trust helps with retention, productivity, and well-being," says Mazor. "People in high trust companies are 50% less likely to leave, 180% more likely to be motivated, and 140% more likely to take on extra responsibilities."

Building boundaryless organizations that have high levels of trust

Mazor believes that there is a lot HR can do to drive this, as the role of HR keeps rapidly evolving. "Changes in the way work is done means the HR department can help guide this mindset shift and break down boundaries, helping to define roles rather than jobs, to bring out the best in people and enable them to have a high level of trust."

How are you handling your return to office?

It’s a sensitive message and a complex problem, but people deserve the chance to change their minds about coming back to the office.

Nevertheless, you can make the most of the opportunities with a constructive approach.

Senior business leaders, Chief People Officers, HRDs and employee engagement
specialists are coming to us to power up their plans with purpose.

Using the powerful combination of insights, behavioural science, and high-impact communications, we’re helping businesses move into a more meaningful and productive era of work.

Explore our 6-step method to success

More on this TopIC

The Point.

The latest thinking from the team, direct to your inbox.
We’d love to hear from you

01904 633 399

AWARDS BADGES Agency Business white

The Old Chapel,
27a Main Street,
YO10 4PJ


The Black & White Building,
74 Rivington Street,

© scarlettabbott 2024 Privacy Notice