WX trends: The politics of returning to the office

WX trends: The politics of returning to the office

Our workplace experience (WX) trends series looks at recent news articles, videos, social media posts and thought leadership pieces on workplace experience. You’ll also hear from our experts on what’s trending.

In this WX trends post, we’re diving into the nuances of returning to the office (RTO). First we’re learning about workers drawing a line in the sand against company mandates. Next, we’ll explore how to reduce the stressors of RTO policies. Finally, how RTO and the environment are interconnected.

They were mandated back — and then sued

Some workers are happy to return to the office while. Others not so much.

A recent article in The Washington Post follows the saga of one worker, who took his company to court after refusing to return to the office and being fired for it.

The 31-year-old worker, who has congenital heart disease and severe anxiety, battled with his company for years about its RTO policy before he was shown the door. His lawyer says he’s seen an increase of people filing lawsuits in pursuit of being able to work remotely.

“Workers argue that mandates can be unjust, discriminate against people with disabilities and is a retaliatory action against unionization efforts,” the article states. “Employers that have backtracked from flexible work argue that being in the office is necessary as it improves company culture, collaboration and productivity.”

The issue doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon as workplaces navigate the desire to get workers back but also provide flexibility, says Tony DiBenedetto, CEO of Appspace.

“While there’s no consensus on return-to-office mandates, employees and managers alike share a common desire for enhanced and simple workplace connections, whether collaboration takes place in person, remotely, or hybrid. Organizations can seize this moment to deliver the best workplace experience possible with consumer-like technology that mirrors the ease employees expect and have grown accustomed to in their personal lives.”

Reducing the stress of returning to the office

Imagine starting out your career in a remote role and suddenly being told you have to return to the office full-time.

Older workers remember what it was like to be at the office five days a week. But for a younger generation or people who’ve gotten used to logging in from home in pyjama pants, returning can be a source of stress.

That’s why Inc. has put together a helpful guide for HR leaders on how to make the transition as peaceful as possible.

First on the list of should-dos? Giving a lot of advance notice, according to the article.

“There may be issues with transportation, child care, needing office-appropriate attire, and so much more,” states the story.

“HR managers need to be mindful of what a big ask this is, even if employees knew that the return to the office would happen at some point.”

Is RTO bad for the environment?

When workers suddenly found themselves working from their kitchen table, couch or home office in 2020, global carbon emissions dropped by 7%.

That was good news four years ago but as many workplaces enact RTO policies, workers are commuting to the office again. What does that mean for the environment? A Mother Jones story looks at exactly that.

“A 10% increase in people working remotely could reduce carbon emissions by 192 million metric tons a year, according to a study published in the journal Nature Cities earlier this month,” states the article. “That would cut emissions from the country’s most polluting sector, transportation, by 10 percent.”

Many studies have highlighted the correlation between ESG initiatives and employee morale and retention, especially with younger generations, according to Carolyn Voelkening, Senior Vice President of Service Delivery at Appspace.

“The good news is that the right mix of collaboration and affordable technology can help drive ESG forward—with facilities managers playing a major role in moving the needle.”

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