Return-to-office (RTO) orders are ramping up again, with top companies like Amazon and Disney ordering employees to return to in-office work as President Biden is set to lift the COVID-19 public emergency order.
The conflict between employers and employees is nothing new. Since employees have begun working from home during the pandemic and learned they can do their best work without making the daily commute, employers have been struggling to convince employees to return to in-office work.
Amazon, Disney employees fighting back
Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, ordered all employees who are currently working in a hybrid schedule to return to the office four days a week, effective March 1, citing benefits to creativity, culture and careers that come with in-person work.
“In a creative business like ours, nothing can replace the ability to connect, observe and create with peers that comes from being physically together, nor the opportunity to grow professionally by learning from leaders and mentors,” Iger said in a memo, according to Deadline.
However, employees aren’t thrilled about the news, and even created a petition urging Iger to reconsider, according to the Washington Post. The petition argues that the RTO mandate will cause “long-term harm” to the company, leading to “forced resignations among some of our most hard-to-replace talent and vulnerable communities” while “dramatically reducing productivity, output and efficiency.”
Amazon is in a similar position, with CEO Andy Jassy requiring employees to come in three days a week starting May 1, prompting pushback from employees and the creation of a Slack channel for remote work advocacy.
What employee pushback means for HR
There’s a common misconception that employees want remote work for personal benefits, such as reduced commuting time and increased flexibility. But the pushback from employees at Amazon and Disney tells a different story: employees are advocating for themselves as well as their colleagues in vulnerable communities.
Remote work has opened up a lot of new opportunities that weren’t accessible to certain communities previously. For example, remote work has been shown to be beneficial to employees with disabilities. Other employees, such as working parents, have also found remote work to have benefits for childcare. For these employees, a return to work may mean making tough decisions in order to get back into the office.
If your company is pushing for an RTO, the transition process should consider how it will affect certain employees and, if possible, come up with accommodations for employees with disabilities who may not be able to physically come into an office or are immunocompromised.
For HR, the employee pushback shows a higher level of advocacy that may not have been there pre-pandemic. An RTO plan should take the new world of work into account in order to get employees back in the office or risk mass employee pushback.