Does Zoom office mandate spell doom for remote working?

Oh, the irony. Despite being one of the biggest beneficiaries from the move to remote working during the pandemic, tech company Zoom is now mandating its staff back into the office

The unsettled condition of hybrid working is constantly throwing up weird reversals and the latest is Zoom’s about-turn on working remotely. The technology company most prominently associated with making hybrid work possible has announced that its staff are expected back in the office at least two days per week.

There is a caveat: the new rule only covers people living within 50 miles of a Zoom office, a distance deemed ‘commutable’. But even so, the policy Zoom describes as a ‘structured hybrid approach’ represents quite a switch-around.

Prior to this very public decision, Zoom had kept quiet about its approach. Having benefited from offering others the flexibility to work from home, the company seemed honour-bound to extend the same courtesy to its own employees.

Zoom’s shift in thinking about the office has apparently been brought about by a need to continue to innovate and provide high-level services to its customers, higher-level interpersonal activities that require in-person collaboration. But some critics will feel that Zoom’s new approach is an unconscious acknowledgement of its own software’s failing to create real connection between colleagues.

Back-to-office bonanza

Zoom isn’t the only company turning its back on all-remote working. According to a survey conducted in January 2023 in the US by Monster, a third of companies planning to offer a remote or hybrid working arrangement have now backtracked on their commitment.

Could this be a mistake? New research by Unispace, ‘Returning for Good’ (May 2023), suggests that 42 per cent of organisations with return-to-office mandates are struggling to retain talent and almost a third of companies with mandates are struggling to recruit new employees. Whilst taking a more hardline approach may be understood as necessary to bring back a sense of office culture and connection, the long-term effects of mandating might create a level of frustration and disconnect between employees and employers.

While we witness the public irony of Zoom (of all companies) recalling its people back to the office, the underlying message is that companies need to work harder on creating culture and community within their organisations without the need for a paternalistic approach, tempting people back into the office by providing engaging workspaces and exciting experiences that will boost morale and offer a sense of togetherness, magnetising people back to the office instead of mandating.

Read more about how different companies are approaching the move to hybrid work in our Hybrid Office Radar in our Innovation Zone for WORKTECH Academy members and partners.

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