Striking a Balance: Regulations, Curated Experiences, and the Return to the Office

The return-to-office debate rages on. Now tech companies are using mandatory in-office attendance as a performance metric, just like in grade school. Attendance is tied to bonuses, reviews, and even employment.

This old-school emphasis on showing up ignores the productivity of remote work arrangements during the pandemic. It raises the question — is work just about looking busy, or actually accomplishing goals?

While some defend office policies as boosting collaboration and culture, others see it as a power play by anxious bosses. Control is addictive. Mandatory attendance feeds management’s need for obedience and facetime.

These policies also disproportionately affect groups like parents, people with disabilities, and those with long commutes. For them, inflexibility creates barriers, not opportunities. Many found better work-life balance in the pandemic’s remote experiment.

Still, with jobs on the line, workers feel pressure to comply. Performance reviews are powerful motivators. Proximity bias also lingers — out of sight, out of mind. But forced returns risk sowing distrust and undermining morale, backfiring on employers.

Parents are already questioning attendance rewards in schools. Like them, workers are pushing back on antiquated notions of presence equalling productivity. Success metrics need to evolve. 

Bosses clinging to mandatory attendance risk missed chances and dissatisfied employees. In all of these happenings, global mobility professionals need to see how this works.

Gaming the system

There are instances when some employees could be gaming the system — badge in for a few hours on mandated days, then sneak out early. What they don’t know is that some companies have sensors under the employee’s desks. 

A recent study found 80% of companies will monitor attendance via badges, sensors, and logs in 2024. Most say violators face reduced bonuses, freezes, even firings.

That is how some employers are fighting back. Which is not good for those who do their job well, even when they’re not physically present.

Experts cite valid reasons beyond catching rule-breakers. Data can inform office footprint and benefits costs, if done transparently, says Dennis Deans of Korn Ferry

But employees will likely resist the surveillance. Tension is high between bosses adamant about office culture and workers valuing flexibility.

Leaders may feel emboldened by tight labor markets and profit pressures. But rigid mandates could hurt recruitment and retention. Monitoring could backfire without reinforcing the benefits of in-person work like development and exposure. 

Employers plan incentives like raises and childcare alongside tracking. One such consequence is that rigid mandates could make it more difficult to attract and retain talent. In a competitive job market, potential employees may be deterred by workplaces with inflexible policies.

Inconsistent implementation already worries employees forced into the office while managers work remotely. Monitoring promotes accountability and fairness for all. It’s needed for leaders too.

Many employees feel disillusioned seeing empty leadership offices. Strong, equitable rationales are needed alongside monitoring to boost engagement and culture.

A recent Deloitte survey found 79% of respondents said stimulating belonging is important. And 93% agreed it drives performance. The challenge now isn’t just getting people into offices, but making them feel connected when there.

Shared experiences give employees a sense of community unavailable at home. These thoughtful, engaging events bring people together and nurture belonging. Experiences big and small – from cake Fridays to interdepartmental sports – entice employees to offices, especially on quiet days like Mondays and Fridays.

Effective experiences link to company values and business goals. A Team Innovation Day drives idea generation. A green company could host an Exchange Market to swap unused items. Events tied to strategy make work time more worthwhile.

Thoughtfully curated workplace experiences give remote and hybrid workers a sense of belonging in the office. When in-person time feels more connected and worthwhile, people are eager to be there together. 

Below are some tips from ISS, a workplace experience management company, when it comes to getting employees back to the office:

Food brings people together. Providing convenient, fresh meals eliminates a top barrier to office attendance — meal prep. Offer diverse cuisines in the cafeteria.

Convenience is another workforce priority. Offer services like take-home dinners or onsite bike repair. Alleviating daily burdens incentivizes office time.

Meets and greets spark innovation. Cross-departmental and cross-level events counteract silos. “Meet the Manager” breakfasts and new hire meet-and-greets break boundaries. This facilitates community building and sparks innovation.

Regular and one-off events bring engagement. Leverage external happenings like local sports for unique experiences. Schedule experiences on less popular office days as extra motivation.