Top Considerations for Implementing Return to Office Mandates

By Mariah Collins, SHRM-CP on May 31, 2024
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Is your organization considering implementing a return to office mandate? If so, you’re not alone. In 2024, 90% of companies with office space are putting some kind of return to office policy in place (if they don’t already have one). 

If you’re like many employers, you have a few questions about return to office mandates. In this post, we’ll try to answer those. In the end, we’ll show you where to turn for all the help you’ll need putting together (and enforcing) a return to office policy that works for you. 

RELATED: How to Know If Remote Employees Are Working: Tracking Techniques >> 

What Kind of Return to Office Policy Do We Want to Implement? 

Deciding on the structure of the return to office policy that’s right for your organization involves considering many factors, including productivity in different work settings, employee demand, manager preference, and, of course, the nature of your company’s work. 

If various factors point you in different directions within the where-to-work debate, keep in mind that return to office mandates don’t have to require full 40-hour in-person work weeks. In fact, the best responses to return to office mandates happen when businesses strike a balance with hybrid work.

As you seek to find an equilibrium between collaboration and autonomy, consider the following hybrid work structure ideas: 

  • Require employees to be in-office on certain “onsite days.” I.e., on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

  • Give employees full autonomy to choose which days they’d like to work in the office, subject to certain percentage requirements in a given week, month, or quarter. 

  • Allow employees to have one “remote week” during the month, subject to approval by their manager. 

  • Require employees to be in-person daily, but only during “core office hours,” i.e., between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. 

  • Allow remote half-days 

hybrid workforce

What Is the Recruitment & Retention Risk Surrounding Return to Office Mandates? 

Studies show that hybrid work—and the flexibility it affords—is in high demand amongst American office workers. As employers begin to roll out return to office mandates, they should consider the impact of a new return to office policy on their workplace culture, and in turn, their ability to retain and recruit top talent. 

The impact on your organization’s culture will vary based on the demographics of your workforce. For example, if your workforce is generally younger, you could be fighting a tougher battle by trying to pull your employees back into the office five days a week—but that doesn’t mean that hybrid work won’t be appealing. 

According to a study discussed by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) in an April 2024 Workplace News & Trends Report, “74% of Generation Z employees prefer some type of hybrid work arrangement, compared with 52% of all other employee demographics.” In fact, only 11% of Gen Z respondents in the mentioned study wanted to work fully remotely, while 34% of other workers did. 

When it comes to predicting how your unique workforce will react to a return to office mandate, only you will be able to guess. However, there are some critical statistics that might shape how you think about designing your return to office policy. Consider the following return to office statistics highlighted in an April 2024 article by USA Today: 

  • Pew Research Center indicates that roughly 14% of all employed U.S. adults work fully remotely and 41% work in a hybrid setting. 

  • An Upwork study estimated that 1 in 5 Americans (20%) will work remotely by 2025. 

  • According to a USA Today survey, 58% of American white-collar workers want to work remotely at least three days out of the week, and just 16% would even consider a role that did not offer any remote work days. 

  • 42% of office workers would take a pay decrease in exchange for the ability to work remotely. 

hybrid work model

A popular question amongst employers considering implementing new return to office mandates is: “Can we really force our employees to come back into the office?” 

Employers are right to wonder whether there are any legal concerns surrounding return to office mandates. But, in short, you can require your employees to abide by your new return to office policy in most instances.

If you have legal apprehensions, it’s always best to speak with an attorney. But in general, you can feel confident instating your return to office mandate, subject to just a few considerations.

Keep the following guidelines in mind: 

  • Review Existing Agreements with Remote Workers Before Issuing Mandates

    Before issuing a return to office mandate, review any agreements you have in place with employees who were hired as remote workers. If you’ve hired an employee with the understanding that their role would be fully remote, you should speak with legal counsel or an HR compliance expert before issuing requiring their presence in the office. 
  • Preventing Disparate Impact in Return to Office Mandates

    Ensure your return to office mandate won’t have a disparate impact. It’s important to consult with legal counsel and/or an HR compliance expert before issuing your formal return to office policy. 

    If your policy targets certain groups, departments or teams unevenly, it may earn you a claim of discrimination or “disparate treatment.” To the extent possible, your policy should apply to all employees equally and shouldn’t disproportionately negatively affect a certain group. 
  • ADA Compliance and Reasonable Accommodations in Return to Office Mandates

    Remember to abide by your obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Just as they were required to pre-COVID, employers must explore reasonable accommodations for workers with mental or physical disabilities in line with the ADA. 

    For some employees, remote or hybrid work may represent a reasonable accommodation that would demand consideration by their employer. If you have questions about the application of the ADA within your workforce, contact your legal counsel and/or an HR compliance expert

RELATED: Hybrid Work Statistics: What the Numbers Say About Today's Workforce >> 

Axcet HR: Your Partner for Building & Sustaining a Great Company Culture

To keep profits and morale high, your organization will need to build and sustain a strong company culture. In turn, your workplace culture will help you recruit and retain your most precious resource: talent. 

At Axcet HR Solutions, we’re proud to work with our clients to understand the details of what makes their workplace unique. Then, we help to craft an employee relations strategy that has the ability to deliver real ROI. 

The experienced HR consultants at Axcet HR Solutions have the employee relations know-how to guide you toward success. From HR compliance and workplace safety to recruitment and retention, Axcet is your certified professional employer organization. Let us take care of the HR details, so you can focus on growing and scaling your core business. 

Interested in learning more about how Axcet can help? Schedule a consultation with our experienced consultants today. 

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