Return to Office

RTO plans saw setbacks this year—here’s what HR needs to consider in 2023

HR leaders should balance business objectives with employees’ wants and needs before rolling out new attendance policies.
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Dimitri Otis/Getty Images

· 3 min read

When you look back on 2022, what will you remember? How Taylor Swift broke Ticketmaster, when Beyoncé dropped the anti-work anthem, or how Harry Styles dominated, well, everything?

As an HR pro, it’s likely the return-to-office calls are up there, too, and not because employees were overjoyed about them. Here are some of the year’s most notable RTOs that didn’t go to plan, plus how HR leaders can learn from them and help executives make more measured moves in 2023.

General Motors. In September, the company postponed its three-day-a-week, in-person return after it tried—and failed—to communicate it to employees. GM changed course just two business days later, after workers, confused and angered by the policy, pushed back, according to CNBC. Now, employees aren’t expected to be back in the office until Q1 2023.

Apple. The tech giant’s RTO has had multiple false starts since at least the summer of 2021, thanks to spikes in cases of Covid-19 and resistance from employees, who’ve opposed the strict nature of the mandates. Its latest push, to bring workers back three days a week after Labor Day 2022, resulted in more than 1,000 employees signing a petition in August, arguing that they were more productive while working from home and should continue to be allowed workplace flexibility. Apple has not commented on whether it is enforcing the mandate.

Tesla. No RTO roundup would be complete without an Elon Musk company. The controversial CEO used threats of termination to bring employees of his EV business back to the office full-time in June. But those who returned faced a unique problem: There weren’t enough parking spaces and desks to accommodate all of the pandemic-era hires, and the Wi-Fi wasn’t strong enough to support their work, The Information reported. So, managers told employees to continue working from home.

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Ready to RTO in 2023? Stephanie Reynolds, chief people officer at Unify Consulting, told HR Brew that HR professionals should discuss with their companies’ executives whether an RTO is necessary before determining who needs to come back and how to make it happen. To help answer those questions, she said HR should consider what parts of the business have grown while remote, and what motivates their employees.

“The strategy is to essentially gauge where you need to get higher productivity and higher results and then balance that against the preferences, and stage your return to office in a way that is more gradual,” she said. Her recommendation: Focus on the “areas that have lower productivity, and not create a mandate across the board…have each leader engage with their teams in specific ways that can bring them together.”

Reynolds explained that the companies that have experienced major RTO setbacks are those that have tried to go back to what was successful before the pandemic. But, as Harry Styles would say, it’s not the same as it was.—KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected]. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

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