2024 RTO Mandates: A Comprehensive Guide for Businesses
Interviews / Opinions

2024 RTO Mandates: A Comprehensive Guide for Businesses

, Senior Content Writer

It wasn’t all that long ago the workforce did a major pivot to adjust to days confined to home offices, video calls buzzing with static, and sweatpants as the unofficial work uniform. But as 2024 unfolds, a familiar rhythm is returning: the call to the office. Return to office (RTO) mandates are a hot topic these days, with a whopping 90% of US employers expected to implement them this year.

While the allure of remote work lingers, companies are using RTO mandates to recapture in-person collaboration and company culture. But navigating this transition is fraught with challenges. Everything from employee resistance to the risks hybrid work models pose for inclusivity and employee engagement.

A successful return isn’t just about getting people back at their desks. If you’re hoping to adopt a return to office policy in 2024, you’ll need a plan for building a thriving workplace. One that draws on the strength of in-person connection and the flexibility of remote work.

Here, we look at return to office trends. We explore what RTO mandates mean for employers and employees. And we share some practical tips to address the challenges faced by both.

Return to office mandates: How did we get here?

The term “return to office” has evolved over the last few years.

2024 RTO Mandates: A Comprehensive Guide for Businesses

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea didn’t exist on a large scale. It referred to individual employees returning to work after a break. Then, post-COVID-19, governments used the phrase to explain COVID regulations and guidelines. It was a way to say that employees no longer needed to work from home due to the pandemic.

Now, though, its meaning is bigger and bolder. And it implies high stakes for today’s workplace.

Return to office guidance is slowly being replaced with RTO mandates.  RTO mandates represent an organizational shift to how we work, a decree about where and when employees should be in the office. And they’re affecting how employees think about their future with your organization.

Return to office trends: Why bring people back now?

Employers are leaning toward bringing people back to fully in-office or hybrid work for many reasons. For example:

  • Collaboration. Many believe in-person interaction is crucial for creative brainstorming and stronger team collaboration.
  • Culture. Some organizations have concerns that remote work challenges weaken culture and identity, making it harder to attract and retain talent.
  • Performance. At-home distractions and lack of structure can make people less productive. Closer contact is often considered better for accountability.
  • Logistics. There are employers who feel that in-person training and onboarding run more smoothly on-site.
  • Security. A physical presence in the office can be considered better for security, improving control over sensitive information.

It’s important to note that these are perceived benefits, and the effectiveness of RTO mandates in achieving them is debated.

Challenges of RTO mandates

Return to office strategies aren’t as simple as sending out an email explaining the new working model. Some organizations, including giants like Starbucks and Amazon, have tried and failed to offer a “one-size-fits-all” approach in terms of RTO mandates. This won’t work for the majority of employers because they’re facing a range of employee needs and preferences.

Here are some of the main obstacles you might face when trying to issue formal RTO mandates:

Employee resistance

Return to office policies (part- or full-time) may not sit well with your team. One recent survey found that 37% of employees who were forced to return to the office reported being unhappy with their employers. And of those who are unhappy, 29% say they intend to resign unless the policy is reversed. There are a few big reasons team members may struggle to support your strategy.

Employees accustomed to remote work may resist losing key benefits, like more control over work-life balance and greater workplace flexibility. RTO mandates can disrupt established routines and childcare arrangements, causing stress and dissatisfaction.

They might also put specific employees at a disadvantage. For example, those with longer commutes, disabilities, or childcare responsibilities.

Logistical and operational challenges

Bringing your workforce back to the office can create hurdles for you, too. You may need to adapt office layouts or budgets to accommodate more people.

If you’re implementing a hybrid work model, you may also need to update your technology and infrastructure. To ensure seamless collaboration between remote and in-office teams, you need the right tools in place from day one.

Upskilling and reskilling

While remote work has honed valuable skills (think independent work and technology proficiency), returning to an office environment might mean brushing up on in-person and hybrid work skill sets.

RTO mandates that follow a part remote/part in-office route have wider implications for training too. Your L&D strategy may need upgrading to fit a hybrid workplace. And to ensure equal opportunities for employee development across your team.

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Recruiting, engagement, and retention

Many employees consider flexible work arrangements a key benefit. Eliminating the option may make it harder to recruit top talent.

It may also make it harder to keep current employees engaged and on board. For example, remote workers may feel excluded from meetings, discussions, or informal interactions.

4 tips for implementing RTO mandates

Effective RTO mandates require thoughtful planning so you can handle the above obstacles. Here are a few tips for ensuring your strategy is seamless and benefits both you and your employees.

1. Keep communication clear and transparent

Make sure employees understand not only the “what” of your RTO mandate but also the “why”. They’ll be more on board with your decision if they can see how it’s beneficial for both the company and for them.

Send out a detailed explanation of your new policy. Outline the pain points of fully remote work and share how bringing people back together will address them. Make it clear that employee well-being is important to you throughout this transition.

2. Collaborate with your employees

Bring your teams in the loop as part of your RTO mandates process. Make sure they feel heard as you make the switch to your new way of working.

Set up opportunities for employees to hear from leadership about the new policy. And give them equal time to share their concerns. This might look like town-hall-style meetings or online forums that allow for Q&A with management.

3. Create a training strategy

Focus on training that will help bring employees back seamlessly.

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Include content in your current training strategy that covers areas returning remote workers may need to brush up on. For example:

  • Communication and collaboration. Provide content that coaches people on participating in in-person meetings and giving clear and concise presentations.
  • Office etiquette and social dynamics. Share instruction on how to readjust to office norms like appropriate attire, noise levels, and respecting personal space. Include content around reading and responding to nonverbal cues. (These can be more nuanced in face-to-face interactions.)
  • Time management and organization. Offer courses for managing focus and staying on task in an open office setting. Or for juggling tasks while collaborating with colleagues and attending meetings.
  • Adaptability. Give direction on flexibility. People will need to know how to adjust routines, appreciate diverse work styles, and collaborate despite differences.
  • Effective leadership. Train managers on how to lead hybrid teams and address remote work challenges.
  • Well-being. In our recent research, 68% of employees polled said training focused on well-being was important to them going into 2024. RTO mandates represent a change that some employees may find unsettling. Offer courses on stress management and work-life balance to help people navigate the transition.

4. Seek regular feedback and commit to acting on it

The only way to know whether your RTO mandate is successful is to regularly review how things are going. Create feedback mechanisms like surveys or manager check-ins with employees. Ask about what’s going well and where there may be confusion or inefficiency.

Also, track key metrics around productivity and employee satisfaction. Then act on all the data you collect. Make improvements where necessary. And stay open to the idea of introducing more flexibility into the plan as needed. If everyone’s back in-office, you might consider expanding your hybrid model to accommodate diverse employee needs.

RTO mandates are an opportunity, not a chore

Return to office mandates aren’t just about going back to the old ways. They can be an opportunity for both employers and employees to co-create the future of work. This shared journey offers a chance to redefine collaboration, shape a flexible future, and strengthen company culture.

Approach this transition with an open mind, clear communication, and a focus on shared goals. Then both you and your employees can turn RTO mandates into a springboard for a more engaging, productive, and future-focused work environment.

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Fiona McSweeney - Senior Content Writer

Fiona, a skilled journalist, offers deep insights in L&D and HR, blending thorough research with storytelling. Her content captivates readers. Discover more by Fiona!

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