Staff will resign if you force them back to the office

Staff may resign if you force them back to the office

It seems some organisations are doing a u-turn on their hybrid working model and forcing staff to return to the office. Even specifying the days and hours they should work in the office. This is not true hybrid working.

Some employees have resigned over the issue. Most notably Ian Goodfellow, Machine Learning Director at Apple. He’s a senior guy that resigned in protest at the company forcing staff back to the office three days a week.

He’s now accepted a job at Google. Google, unlike Apple, allows people to work from home if their job allows. Could this be a pattern of staff resigning to find companies that offer more flexible working arrangements? It’s no longer just about the salary.

I don’t think that people are anti-office, they are anti-flexibility.

Apple staff were surveyed in April and were overwhelmingly against the new policy – 67% stating they were dissatisfied with the return to office plan. Schej has conducted research and discovered that 51% of job seekers were looking for hybrid work only (20% want fully remote and 13% want to be in the office).

So if you don’t offer genuine hybrid working arrangements not only could you lose staff but you may find it increasingly difficult to attract new talent.

Why do people now dislike the office?

I don’t think that people are anti-office, they are anti-flexibility.

During the pandemic, office workers made big changes to their lifestyles. They altered their childcare arrangements, made room for a home office, enjoyed a better work-life balance, and (like me) started taking the dog for a walk to take a break from the laptop screen.

These are major lifestyle changes, and positive changes too.

Forcing people to dilute that positive change and prescribing when they must attend the office (and penalising them if they don’t?) is bound to have a negative response.

And then there’s the dreaded commute.

The rush-hour traffic, the busy trains and the cost of travel all add to the lack of enthusiasm for office work.

However, it’s interesting to note that according to the UK Office for National Statistics, the percentage of people working exclusively from home has fallen from 22% in February 2022 to 14% in May 2022. Whether they jumped or were pushed is open to debate.

During the same period, the number of employees performing hybrid work jumped from 13% in early February 2022 to 24% in May 2022. A trend?

So what’s the solution?

First, there is a need for owners and senior execs to change their mindsets. Don’t treat staff like children that need to be told when to attend school and be hauled in front of the headmaster if they are not on time.

Trust your staff to act like adults. Give them genuine choice on whether they believe they are more effective in the office or at home. As long as they get their work done and don’t miss a deadline do you really care if they are sitting in their spare room, Starbucks or their office desk?

This fluidity in office attendance requires skilful management. A Google sheet or Excel document is not the answer. Nor is hot desking or desk booking. Both are disliked by employees (86% dislike hot-desking and 80% dislike desk booking).

It requires a powerful software solution to manage all the permutations. How many are in the office today and this week, do you have capacity in the building and can you ensure each team is sitting together?

Of course, there will be occasions when people will need to meet in person. Office meetings are a prime example.

I truly believe that meetings are more effective when they are in-person. There is energy in the room when people get together in the office. The flow of information and conversation is less stilted and we can see people’s body language so we know when to talk and when to listen.

By contrast, video meetings of more than 3 people can take far too long as we are unsure whether we can interrupt, the technology sometimes lets you down and time spent concentrating on a screen can be draining.

Managers should sell the benefits of office attendance. More carrot than stick.

Selling office attendance

Make it clear to employees that they can arrive at the office any time they like and avoid the crush on the trains or buses as well as the traffic jams. It may make their journey quicker as well as more comfortable.

Infographic download - 5 key return to office statistics

Highlight how they don’t have to stay all day. If they have a meeting at 11.00 am they don’t need to arrive at 9.00 am – 10.50 am is fine. And after the meeting, they can head home to continue their work.

But they may want to stick around to analyse and interpret the outcomes of the meeting with close colleagues. These ‘off the record’ discussions can often surface issues that were missed in the meeting – especially if it’s a casual discussion over a coffee.

And there is a greater opportunity for ‘accidental conversations’. Bumping into a colleague from another department and learning about their projects and challenges can lead to new solutions for both parties.

One of the major drawbacks of fully remote working is the lack of team and company bonding as well as the danger of silo information. You only interact with your close connections.

Birthday cakes in the office, after-work celebrations and pizza lunches paid by the boss can all encourage staff to make the journey. Humans are by nature social animals. As Professor Dunbar once said “Digital world, stone age social skills”.

One size does not fit all

Despite all of the above, some employees will still prefer 100% remote working. And that’s OK.

Unfortunately, not everyone has a happy home life and the office can be a sanctuary. That’s why organisations need to keep the office open (although maybe downsized) so that everyone’s needs are met.

Embrace the true meaning of hybrid working and the flexibility it gives your staff. Trust them to make good decisions on where they work and you will be rewarded with a loyal workforce keen to achieve personal and organisational goals with greater success.

More stats on hybrid working are available on our ‘Returning to the office‘ infographic as well as our in-depth hybrid working report.


Photo by Laura Davidson.