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Is an employee revolution brewing as staff are told to return to the office?

Has the New-Normal #WFH (Work from Home) ‘experiment’ run its course? Are we facing a New New-Normal and, if so, what will be the response from the workforce?

It’s about 2 months since Elon Musk sent Twitter staff an overnight message telling them that a return to the office is not optional, although it’s almost a year since he told Tesla staff that they are expected to spend at least 40 hours a week in the office.

But he’s far from alone in this – probably just the most-reported on…

Apple is apparently expecting staff to clock in physically at least 3x per week, and will be monitoring this from their badges, and Google also expects 3 days-per-week attendance.

While Goldman Sachs demanded employees return to the office over a year ago, in March 2022, although daily attendance reportedly is still 10-15% below pre-pandemic levels.

Across ‘the pond,’ of course, Jacob Rees-Mogg, as minister for government efficiency (arguably an oxymoron) wrote to all ministers in April last year urging them to get civil servants back to their offices as a matter of urgency. This was not a great success, it seems, as four months later he was looking to sell off £1.5bn worth of London government offices that were not being utilised.

JP Morgan told its senior staff just last month that they were expected back at their desks 5 days a week (although many other employees only need report 3 days a week), and the big electronics retailer AO World told staff at the beginning of this year that hybrid working was no longer an option.

This month, M&G plc, the huge UK investment manager, told its managers that they are expected to spend three days a week in the office, on different days each week (not the popular Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday routine, then).

It seems that companies, especially the larger ones, are becoming increasingly frustrated with low in-office attendance which, according to this article is sitting at just 34% in the UK. The approach has shifted from inducement to requirement as the former made little difference, with employees starting to voice their displeasure. Of course, the politicians – always keen to find another potential vote, especially when they’re in opposition – are now making loud noises about legislating the right to work from home should they win the next election…

Perhaps, though, things are not as dire as one might think. It seems that when workers were asked to report to the office five days a week, less than half paid heed, but when the requirement was reduced to three, or less, days a week, as many as 80% complied.

So, after initial reports during the pandemic of rising productivity from the work from home regimen, why are companies now changing their minds and insisting on the workforce reporting to the office on at least some days a week?

Quite simply – productivity has been dropping off sharply more recently; in fact, at the fastest rate for four decades, according to this article. High inflation rates and the rapidly increasing cost of living play a part in this, with levels of worker stress about finances being at levels not seen since the 2008 financial crisis, so perhaps lower productivity is due to more people being engaged in “side hustles” to bring in extra income..

So, what does the ‘New New-Normal’ look like and what are the likely consequences?

  • For most, a hybrid model of, typically, three days a week in the office, although factory workers, customer-facing people and managers may well find this to be higher.
  • Increasing measurement of results / productivity to ensure that businesses are getting what they expect, and pay for, in terms of output. OKR frameworks, or equivalent, will become the norm.
  • Companies adjusting their perks offerings to retain and attract top staff. These will typically focus on areas like health & wellness, flexibility (where feasible) of scheduling, professional development and more open communication, increasing motivation and enhancing the culture.

The consequences for staff are more travel (commuting) costs, offset to some extent by reduced energy usage / costs at home, and the commuting time. Expect to see companies increasingly using satellite / regional offices closer to concentrations of staff, and smaller central offices as a result. Of course, a benefit for the large numbers of people that were finding the isolation of #WFH difficult is that they will not be so isolated now, and that team culture will be improved, too.

Although in the current inflationary climate of mass layoffs among many companies – especially in the tech sector – some of the bosses might feel they can ignore the need for adjusting the perks offered to their workforce, they do so at their peril as the better ones will find more attractive opportunities elsewhere, and the current round of layoffs is not expected to last much longer. Certainly, by offering a hybrid model and the perks mentioned, companies can expect a return to pre-pandemic productivity levels, or better.

So, is the much-vaunted 4-day work week experiment dead as a consequence? It’s too early to tell, but my belief is not. A hybrid working model still fits in well with this, and if companies are only expecting 4 days of work a week in return for 100% of [pre-pandemic] 5-day productivity, this seems like a win-win situation.

Business leaders would do well to get out in front of this ‘new new-normal’ direction and move their businesses to facilitate best practice, retaining their key staff and boosting productivity at the same time.


Following a career spanning >50 years in the technology industry across three continents, with three decades in CxO roles leading significant, sustained growth in revenue and profitability, I now work with successful owner-led businesses to further enhance their growth, profitability and business value.

If you’d like to discuss your company culture, board, business strategy, trends, goals, or anything else related to your business, book a confidential, free 30-minute call with me here.

I’d be delighted to talk with you.


And if you’d like to learn more, these related posts might be of interest:

And Fortune’s Return to the Office Playbook might also be worth reading.


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#BusinessFitness #4DayWeek #Attitude #Change #Culture #JobSatisfaction #Motivation #People #Productivity #Teams #Trends #WFH #WorkingFromHome    



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