January 26, 2024

Topic Spotlight: Asking the ‘Why’ in Return-To-Office Mandates

Mandating that people are physically present doesn’t encourage collaboration, promote connection, or foster a positive culture. Start by asking why a mandate is necessary and target the real problem. Then you can build a culture that truly nurtures collaboration and connection, wherever your team is.
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Some of Australia’s biggest organisations are demanding employees return to the office. Some are even paying their employees to return. Whether companies are mandating the return, or (in their words) “incentivising” it, it’s not very clear what their rationale is. Why do they feel the need to do that?

Mandating a return to office (in most corporate settings) is a blanket solution, and it’s being applied without any real transparency about the reason. Are these companies trying to solve an engagement issue? Are they concerned about the quality or quantity of work? Is there a trust issue? There are more refined ways to solve each of these problems.

The mandates also have real-world equity implications. The scary thing about return-to-office mandates is that they can lead to profound inequity. These mandates will inevitably affect some groups more than others, including working parents, people with disabilities, neurodivergent people, and people with caring responsibilities. That’s a huge talent pool you’re ostracising. Why would you do that? It’s a bad business decision if you want the best talent.

Recent research has established that people are more productive when they have autonomy over where, when, and how they work. Of course, this isn’t suitable for all roles, especially those that are labour-focused. But where it is, trusting employees with their decisions will lead to greater engagement, lower turnover, and higher quality work. At Cube, we encourage flexible working every day, and host a quarterly in-person team-building day to foster team connection. Over the years, we have seen our team succeed professionally and personally as a result of this approach. We are intentional about our policies, prioritising business outcomes rather than adherence to rigid hours and fixed locations. We’ve also seen that a flexible work approach attracts top talent, with many of our new recruits telling us that our commitment to flexibility is a key reason they joined Cube.

Mandating that people are physically present doesn’t encourage collaboration, promote connection, or foster a positive culture. Start by asking why a mandate is necessary and target the real problem. Then you can build a culture that truly nurtures collaboration and connection, wherever your team is.

About the Author

Jane Edgar is the Chief Operating Officer at Cube Group. She is passionate about creating equal opportunities in education, career advancement and remuneration. Jane embodies the very values which make our team distinct. In addition to driving positive outcomes for our clients, she uses her experience in strategy, culture and business transformation to drive our growth.

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