May 23, 2024

We told our team they didn’t have to come back to the office. Here’s why they did anyway…

When I tell people that we've never mandated our team to return to the office, the follow up question is always the same: “So, does anyone actually come in?” The answer always surprises people and then they want to know what we did to get people back.

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I recently published an article about return-to-office mandates, and my position hasn’t changed.

Mandating that people are physically present is not the way to encourage collaboration, promote connection, or foster a positive culture.

Over the past few months, the debate has raged on – in articles, on LinkedIn, and in boardrooms. I’ve been interested to read the differing perspectives, as this is a topic I care deeply about. No, I don’t believe every role can be effective, done remotely. But I do believe that if someone can do their role from somewhere outside of an office, and they want to, then an organisation should have a very good reason why they won’t support this. 

My feelings about this issue are based on data (see AHRI, AFR and MIT Sloan). Research suggests that autonomy in work arrangements enhances productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction. Flexibility in how and when people work creates opportunities for groups who otherwise struggle to access mainstream jobs. It helps people to create greater balance in their lives, and that’s a very valuable thing.

Given this research, it’s no surprise that Cube hasn’t mandated a return to office. We haven’t specified how many days someone should be in the office or what days certain teams must come in. Even as more of our clients are back in the office and the city is bustling again, we haven’t demanded that our team return to the office. 

Our office at 164 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC

And do you know what happened? Some days, the desk booking calendar is full, our meeting rooms are at capacity and it can be very raucous in the kitchen. Our office is frequently at capacity – not because we force people to come in, but because our team chooses to. 

Unlike other organisations, we haven’t done anything to “lure” them back. We don’t provide breakfast, a pool table or pizza lunches and our heater has been on the blink for the last month so I know people aren’t in for the warmth. 

I talk to lots of people about return-to-office approaches. In my role, it’s still a big question for many organisations. I understand that there are significant property-related costs associated with the number of heads you do or don’t have in the office. When I tell others that we’ve never mandated, the follow up question is always the same: “So, does anyone actually come in?” The answer always surprises people and then they want to know what we did to get people back. Many are disappointed that the answer isn’t as simple as “a ping pong table”. 

There are – of course – better questions to ask. Why didn’t we mandate and why do our team choose to come into the office. 

The answer to the first question is complex and yet really simple. It was the right thing to do. We trust our people, we know they were productive and providing amazing support to our clients during lockdown so why would that change when the world opened back up? People have different work styles and preferences – we embrace that. We looked at the research, and it supported everything we knew from our team – autonomy is vital for engagement and performance.

Cubie Perspectives

Why do our team choose to come in when they don’t have to? We prioritise and invest in our culture, and our office provides a space for people to collaborate and connect, but that answer is best answered by our team. So, I asked them – here are some of the reasons they gave: 

This flexibility gives people options as to where and how they live, it removes unnecessary pressure around being visible, and supports people with different working styles, health needs and family situations. It’s the right thing to do.  

So, I will keep telling anyone who asks, and those who don’t, why office mandates don’t work. If you give people choice, they will choose when they need to be in an office to collaborate, connect and join the coffee run. They’ll also choose when the work they’re doing is better done somewhere else, and they’ll be happier because that choice was theirs.  

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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