The battle to get employees back into the office is about to get a little more heated.
Many companies that are experimenting with a hybrid work schedule have said they want employees to be in the office a set number of days each. the week. But so far, they have done little to enforce those mandates, though employees remain adamant in their desire to work remotely for more days than many CEOs want.
But now that summer vacation and Labor Day are behind us, more employers may be starting to take a harder line.
Just however, the toughness of the companies remains an open question.
Currently, 69% of medium-to-large employers say they require employees whose tasks can be performed remotely to be at work a certain number of days, according to new survey data from business consulting firm Gartner.
Of this group, 26% require employees to be on site three days a week; and 17% opt for a minimum of two days. A small number (4%) only require one day, while only 5% require workers to be in the office five days a week. Another 4% say they require employees to show up either one day per month (2%) or one day per quarter (2%).
A good 31% said they had set no minimum. One such company is JLL, a global commercial real estate services company with more than 100,000 employees, about half of whom have remote jobs. And JLL does not intend to set a requirement this fall.
“We have always believed in flexibility to attract the talent we need,” said Laura Adams, director of human resources.
That said, Adams noted, for the purposes of collaboration and creativity, “we fundamentally believe that the desktop is a key part of the work ecosystem.” And as such, the company will continue to try to entice people to come more often through things like social gatherings.
Office occupancy is now double what it was at the start of the year, but is still only 43% of what it was before the pandemic, said Mark Ein, president of property security management company Kastle Systems.
In his dealings with clients, however, Ein said he sees many companies asking for more office time after Labor Day. He therefore expects the occupancy percentage to increase.
Indeed, as Covid becomes a more manageable risk, CEOs are eager to have more people on hand, said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.
“Unless there’s another flare-up – in which the scientific community says it’s not safe to come to work – CEOs say it’s not about safety anymore and the kids are in school” , Taylor said.
And the way Taylor made it sound, they pissed off had to cajole so much to get cigarette butts in the seats. They feel the hybrid model forces leaders and employees to make accommodations, he noted. “They accepted that we weren’t going back to the good old days, but [feel] employees don’t want to give anything.
However, if the prospect of layoffs increases, it could give CEOs a lot more clout.
“The game would be a game changer if widespread layoffs started to take place. At this point, employees might voluntarily start spending more time in the office to protect their jobs,” said Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy for workplace management at Gallup.
Either way, companies are likely to announce what they expect in terms of time spent in the office after Labor Day. Many will track badges around the building and could hold managers accountable for attendance, Taylor suggested.
So far, this follow-up has remained pretty light. When Gartner asked companies if they track employee attendance, half said no. Among those who are, they relied on data from badge swipes (40%), manager tracking (5%) and digital app self-reports (7%).
In response to an open-ended question from Gartner about whether they would fire someone who didn’t comply, no more than 3% of employers said they would, said Brian Kropp, head of research at Gartner’s human resources practice. And about 30% said HR or a manager would have a conversation with an employee who shows up less than necessary.
In other words, “If you don’t achieve attendance [requirement] you’re in trouble, but you’re not fired,” Kropp said. “They will try to make it work…because the job market is still so competitive. So they don’t want to make their hiring problem worse.
But for companies that affirm their expectations of employees more strongly after Labor Day, the repercussions could be greater for non-compliance. This may initially involve a few conversations over time. Then, if noncompliance persists, in some cases it could lead to job loss, Taylor said.
“Organizations have thought about, ‘And if 10% of employees refuse to do so? What are we doing?'”
Ultimately, this could mean a greater willingness to outsource jobs. “Once you’ve made the case, you can do it entirely remotely, I can hire remotely. Why should I keep you? “, he said.
More immediately, however, failure to meet office requirements could make an employee more vulnerable to any impending layoff. Even A players could be on the list to demonstrate that the company meant what it said about showing up.
“Maybe the star becomes the example,” Taylor said.
Managers who demand workers be on site more days than staff want and threaten them with pay cuts or firing if they don’t comply can create a longer-term problem, experts say from the workplace.
The arguments of many leaders in favor of entry to work now focus on the need to preserve the company culture, collaboration and mentorship of young workers.
“CEOs realize it’s not about productivity, it’s about camaraderie/culture,” Kropp said.
And they’re right…to a point.
Face-to-face time is always important. But workplace research shows that neither culture nor collaboration is necessarily optimized simply by having employees spend 40 hours one week in the same room. It also shows that when employees and teams are allowed to schedule their time in person rather than remotely, it can boost engagement, morale and retention.
Threatening to fire workers just for not coming to the office enough could also backfire.
“The tide hasn’t completely turned yet. It’s still a good job market. Employees have options. And even if the tide does turn, don’t disenfranchise them through fear and mistrust,” said warned Wigert.
Because fear and mistrust, he noted, will lead to even greater disengagement and turnover in the future.