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Return-to-office mandates are failing worldwide, study finds

Workers are coming in on average 1.4 days a week at companies that require office attendance twice a week, the same figure as those with no obligation to attend, according to a study from workplace consultancy AWA.

Gemma Dale, business lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, said employees are resisting arbitrary office working.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “We know that the demand for remote and hybrid work has been sustained. People want it, are prepared to move jobs for it and have built their lives and budgets around it. The latter being especially important in the current economic climate. 

“People will continue to resist demands to return to the office that conflict with their preferences, and importantly when they cannot see the benefits to them or how they do their work. 

“Too many return to office attempts can seem to lack logic or clear rationales.”

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In the UK workers are attending the office 1.6 days a week, up from 1.45 a year ago, according to the research from workplace consultancy AWA.

The majority (70%) of offices in the study have less than 40% attendance on average, while over a third (37%) said they would be looking to consolidate their office space due to reduced demand.

However, 46% of offices do not have a dedicated hybrid working policy. 

Ben Marks, executive director of the #WorkAnywhere Campaign, said businesses need to design flexible policies that match employees’ needs. 

“This research highlights the desire that people have to work from anywhere, not just the office, and policies need to accommodate this.

“Without remote and hybrid work, millions of people, including many parents, carers and people with disabilities, would be unable to access employment, and businesses need to recognise that a dogmatic back-to-the-office approach is a huge step backwards. 

“That’s why it’s crucial that we build on the progress of the last few years and create a future of work that actually works for everyone.”

Many companies, including Amazon, Zoom and Meta, have mandated a return to the office, with varying levels of success.

Dale said resistance to office work will continue if employees feel they can work as effectively at home.

She said: “If you want people in the office and have a good reason for it then you need to make it clear why. Organisations need to think about making it worth it and need to give people a reason to come in, not a mandate. 

“Most people desire autonomy and obligatory mandates work against this. Providing autonomy is good for wellbeing, motivation and engagement and blunt policies will only cause resentment.”