More bosses want employees back in the office.

March 26, 2024

Still, experts said once the dust settles, companies are likely to agree on a spectrum of working models from fully remote to hybrid to being in office. But right now, employers want to ensure that people actually show up in office, a push that’s backed by changes in the job market. It’s becoming an employers’ market, said Arvind Usretay, senior director, commercial leader, India and South Asia, Mercer.

US-based Dell’s memo to the effect that those working remotely won’t get promotions shows how the pendulum has swung from one end to the other across companies – from ardent support for work from home (WFH) to championing work from office (WFO).

“From subtle nudges and advisories to serious disincentives… for those… in favour of WFH, the trend is expected to continue as the market slowly shifts to an employer’s market,” said Usretay.

Employers who have announced a policy on, or preference for, WFO may still choose to not implement all the new rules, especially for high performers, he said, adding that there will be flexibility but less than before. However, things may get tough for those with a not-too-shiny performance rating.

While the pandemic necessitated a shift to remote work, over the last year and more, companies have swung from flexible to firm on their return-to-office stance even informing WFH holdouts of stern action. Meta, Amazon and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) are among those that have warned workers of consequences for failure to comply with return-to-office directives.

Most organisations are insisting on a return to office primarily because post-Covid hybrid working or WFH has created a fundamental disconnect in the ability to perform tasks that require collaboration, said a consultant who did not want to be named. Some companies have also cited data security as a reason for getting people to the office.

For people who don’t toe the line, the new tack could play out by way impacting ratings, promotions, career opportunities and mobility, said the consultant.

“The proximity bias has always been a factor in performance management,” said the consultant. “Whether we like it or not, it exists, regardless of how objective performance management systems have become. In a situation where someone is virtual by choice, that proximity bias may work against them.”

A senior HR executive at a tech company said: “It became necessary to send out a strong message. We will make some exceptions on a case-by-case basis depending on the individual’s needs. But overall, we want employees back in office a certain number of days a month.”

To be sure, companies can’t be rigid about a single model, given the preferences of younger workers, said Jang Bahadur Singh, director, talent solutions, India, Aon. “As we speak to clients across sectors, the majority continue to believe in the power of the hybrid, remote working construct, and the value it unlocks,” he said.

Otherwise, once the market rebounds, employees may look to move out.

“There is a possibility that as the job market opens, employees that have genuine constraints may look for companies that are more flexible in their working models,” he said.

The HR head of a consumer company acknowledged that employers are adopting a strict position because some workers are simply refusing to come to the office.

However, employers will have to show some leniency, he suggested.

“If you’re outcome-focused, you shouldn’t be worried about whether people are sitting in front of you or not, unless it’s a role that necessitates in-office presence,” said the HR head. “However, over time, things will stabilise.”

Source: GWFM Research & Study

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