Finding Balance in Return to Office Mandates

May 30, 2024

by Deanna Parkton

After a period of remote work brought on by the Covid pandemic, many companies have required that employees return to the office either 5 days a week or in a hybrid schedule. Many companies implemented return to office (RTO) mandates due to concerns of unused office space as well as doubts that employees are as productive as they’d be on-site. CEOs also cite working in-person as crucial to a strong company culture, ultimately increasing opportunities for collaboration. 

RTO mandates have generated a lot of conversation as well as have created some strife between employees and executives. One of the biggest debates related to RTO mandates is concerns over productivity, whether remote employees are productive. There are mixed opinions and it can vary based on perspective. Showcasing this disconnect, a Microsoft study found that 87% of employees report they are productive while working remotely while only 12% of leaders say that they have full confidence that employees are productive while working remotely. 

The Microsoft study sought to dispel this assumption that employees were not productive, finding that the number of meetings per week had increased by 153% globally for the average Microsoft Teams user since the start of the pandemic. The study ultimately advocated for leaders to put an end to productivity paranoia, which they defined as the fear that “lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, number of meetings, and other activity metrics have increased.”

To assess the impact of RTO mandates, a University of Pittsburgh study identified S&P 500 firms with RTO mandates and examined job satisfaction data and financial performance. Ultimately, the study found that the mandates did not improve performance and ultimately hurt employee satisfaction. A key factor in employee satisfaction is the cost of in-person work: time spent commuting as well as the cost of gas. Commuting to the office is time that could otherwise be well spent. Interestingly enough, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that remote workdays are about 48.5 minutes longer on average, due to employees not spending that time commuting and instead getting started on their work earlier. identified other factors that should be taken into consideration such as the positive impact of remote work reducing carbon footprints and RTO mandates negatively impacting women (presumably based on work-life balance challenges). One study in particular found that once RTO mandates were put in place, more women were leaving the workplace due to work-life balance issues brought on by caring for children or other family members. 

It is worth noting the value of in-person work, such as the increased opportunities for collaboration and culture and team building. At the same time, it is also worth advocating for a balanced approach to RTO and how it works for each organization, team and employee. 

In the March 2024 article Stop The Return To Office Nonsense, author Alex Birch proposed a balanced approach in RTO mandates including how companies might better design their office space to accommodate a hybrid schedule, while also encouraging employee engagement. Mike Gianoni, a CEO who admittedly “placed the utmost value on having a fully in-person workforce” prior to Covid has since rethought his stance and has seen his company thrive while working remotely, ultimately calling on other CEOs to rethink the return-to-office mandate. He encourages companies to think about regional in-person gatherings, onboarding that encourages collaboration and mentorship, and using tech tools that cater to the remote environment. 

Working in-person certainly offers real and tangible positive rewards such as the possibility for networking, collaboration and discussion but the space and organizational structure needs to accommodate such interactions. Employees can achieve individualized focused work on their own, working remotely when it is appropriate for their workload and schedule. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that in-person interactions through either hybrid schedules or quarterly meet-ups can encourage valuable relationship building. 

The working world has changed over the years and the pandemic only accelerated the change in how people work and live. The more that CEOs and organizations adapt to the changing tides with options for remote work and innovative workspaces, both productivity and employee satisfaction will flourish. 

For more ideas on how you can strategize your work, consider working with a career coach. A coach can help you identify strategies to face challenges head on. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here.

Deanna Parkton is a writer, career coach and educator with a passion for professional development and work wellness and happiness. With a focus on self-reflection, she works with individuals in their quest to reach their career goals as well as satisfaction in work-life balance. You can find more of her writing at and she can be reached at