How to manage a home working u-turn without senior talent jumping ship

With one third of executives threatening to quit if they’re forced back to the office, leaders should use communication and transparency to lessen the impact

How far are you willing to go to get your employees back to the office?

You may firmly believe that people need to interact to be at their most productive. But would you ban staff from working from home if it meant senior talent choosing to leave your business?

Whatever your views, one thing is clear. As leaders, we need to tread carefully and learn as we go. Taking a hard line and scrapping your work-from-home policies overnight will most likely have negative repercussions.

Read more: Mandate mayhem: the battle over the return to the office


People have become used to the benefits and flexibility of working from home. And many won’t give them up without a fight. In fact, one third of executives say they’ll quit if they’re no longer allowed to work from home – a sobering finding by Gartner.

With more and more companies issuing a return-to-the-office mandate, leaders need to plan ways to lessen the impact on their business.

Navigating choppy waters

We’re seeing leaders take a variety of approaches to office working in 2024, some more extreme than others. Some companies are ordering staff back to the office full-time. Others, like Dell, have told employees that they can continue working remotely, but they shouldn’t expect a promotion.

This puts employees in a tricky situation. Those who want to progress and also increase their salary are resorting to 'flip-flopping' – or hopping from job to job – to gain promotions.

Rolling the dice

Staff can feel forced to plan their careers like a game of snakes and ladders, which can impact productivity levels.

Read more: Half of parents consider quitting over office mandates 


The ladders are that employees have to return to the office without a clear explanation of how this benefits the business. Or, in Dell’s case, people are penalised for working remotely. Mid- to senior-level employees start hopping between ladder rungs, moving companies more frequently.

Then there are the snakes: slippery and inconsistent leadership practices that leave employees not knowing where they stand. This kind of uneasiness leads to drops in performance and engagement. And then more people leave, taking their ideas with them.

How to manage a u-turn

My top piece of advice is to not make promises you can’t keep. Telling employees they now have to work in the office will feel like a u-turn, even if these policies were not set in stone. Breaking that trust between employer and employee is a disaster for employee engagement, motivation and retention.

Read more: Nationwide’s return-to-office mandate backfires with £350,000 tribunal bill

But if you do need to manage a working-from-home u-turn, here’s my advice on how to do it without alienating senior managers or damaging your succession planning.

• Communication and transparency are everything: avoid the whispers by keeping a two-way conversation going. Work with your internal communications team to keep the right messaging going out.

• Be human: Admit that you made a mistake.

• Provide a rationale: use facts and figures to back up your decision, like explaining how in-person collaboration is integral to innovation.

• Give people time: let people process what the changes will mean for them.

• Create a plan to help people mitigate any losses: from childcare arrangements or commuting costs, this could really disrupt employees’ lives. Work with them to lessen the impact.

Read more: Forced return to work carries legal risks

It’s important to act in the best interests of your company, but this includes understanding your employees’ views. Further down the line, when the u-turn reaps the rewards you stated it would, make sure you shout about it. And keep shouting loudly. It’s important that people understand why these changes had to be made to benefit the business.

This also means that the next time you’re forced to make such a decision – however unpopular – you’ll get much more buy-in.

By Ben Stocken, founder and CEO of team performance experts West Peak