The Real Reason Why the Return to Office is Failing?

3 min read
Return to Office is Failing

Picture this: A stage where the drama of work unfolds, with actors struggling to find their parts, cues missing, and directors constantly changing the script. This is the current scene for many employees amidst the Return to Office (RTO) movement, according to a recent report by Appspace. Just like actors, employees are searching for their “lines”, the cues to perform in a hybrid or remote work environment. However, the script is constantly changing and 93% of employees report their companies are not particularly adept at arranging the stage to suit the needs of the actors: namely, whether full-time or part-time office workers, they believe their organizations could do much better at improving the office experience. I find the same problems that the Appspace report discovered in the clients who I help transition to a flexible RTO and hybrid work policy.

Fumbling Through The RTO: Our Current Act

In this act of our play, the office, once a well-known stage, now presents new challenges. The report reveals that only 3% of employees are exclusively in-office, while 43% have fully embraced remote work. This leaves a whopping 54% navigating the murky waters of hybrid work, a terrain as unknown as a forgotten Shakespearean tragedy. Much like actors forgetting their lines mid-performance, 70% of these employees are faltering, wasting precious time transitioning from remote to in-office work. 

Imagine being an actor on a stage, unsure if the person beside you is part of the cast or a misplaced audience member. An unsettling 51% of employees have experienced this confusion, unsure if someone they encountered in the office even worked for their company or had authorization to be there. This is a vivid sign of the disconnect between employees and their workplace, a glaring indication that companies need to revise their scripts to improve their hybrid and remote work policies.

In any play, the director is key to bringing the script to life, ensuring every actor knows their part and every scene flows seamlessly. In our workplace drama, technology should ideally play this role. Yet, it seems to be more like a director who has left the building, leaving actors scrambling to fill the void.

One-third of respondents reported their organizations haven’t adopted any technologies that support the RTO movement. Without the proper tools, these workplaces are like stages without props, leaving employees struggling to navigate their roles. Consequently, 67% of employees aren’t completely satisfied with their company’s current workplace tools and technologies, adding another layer of complexity to this convoluted plot.

Redefining the Script: A Call to Action

Employees are shouting, “line!” waiting for cues on how to navigate the hybrid work scene. They want their companies to provide consistent and simultaneous communications, whether they are on stage (in-office) or behind the scenes (remote). A strong 85% consider their colleagues’ presence when deciding whether to come into the office, underlining the crucial role of social connections in this new era of work.

Just as an understudy may need extra rehearsal to shine on stage, employees are also calling for more training on workplace tools. It’s high time for businesses to step up and rewrite the script, directing their workforce towards a harmonious blend of flexibility, collaboration, and effective technology use.

The Invisible Force of Cognitive Biases in the Return to Office Dilemma

The empathy gap, our cognitive bias that makes it difficult to understand our own emotional states in different situations or empathize with others, is contributing significantly to the RTO disarray. Picture this: Your employee, a talented software engineer, thrived in a remote work environment. Now, you’re asking them to return to the office, but they’re pushing back, citing increased productivity at home and less commute-induced stress.

For management, it can be tough to understand this emotional response if they’re not in the same boat. They might assume that everyone will be thrilled to return to the camaraderie of the office environment. But, without the ability to empathize with that remote worker’s perspective, they’re making decisions with a critical blind spot. A touch of empathy could go a long way in crafting policies that resonate with every member of the team.

Do you remember the office pre-pandemic? The cubicles, the meetings in tight conference rooms, the obligatory office small talk? Many organizations, driven by the cognitive bias known as the status quo bias, are gravitating towards reinstating these familiar, yet dated, workplace structures. This bias, our preference for the current or past state of affairs over change, is causing a roadblock in the evolution of the workplace.

Take a step back and think. Do we really need to return to the traditional office model, or are we just holding onto it because it’s comfortable? Unfortunately, comfort doesn’t equate to efficiency or productivity. While the prospect of change may seem daunting, an innovative, forward-thinking approach to RTO could be the game-changer your organization needs.

Acknowledging and understanding these cognitive biases is a critical first step. The empathy gap and status quo bias are not insurmountable hurdles, but rather guideposts pointing us towards a more enlightened approach to RTO. As we move forward, let’s swap out the empathy gap for a dose of empathy, replace the status quo bias with a pinch of daring innovation, and create a Return to Office strategy that truly works for everyone. Because, let’s face it, who said the office ever needed cubicles in the first place?

The Curtain Call: Embrace the Change

The RTO movement is like a matinee performance that still needs a lot of work before the evening show. Organizations need to hear the echoes from the auditorium – the employee feedback – and take action. Only then can the drama of RTO transform into a blockbuster performance, with all actors (employees) playing their roles effectively, no matter where their stage (workplace) is.

Key Take-Away

The Return to Office is failing due to inadequate communication, lack of technology adoption, and ignoring employee preferences. Share on X

Image credit: Alex Green/Pexels

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was lauded as “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times for helping leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. Dr. Gleb wrote the first book on returning to the office and leading hybrid teams after the pandemic, his best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). He authored seven books in total, and is best know for his global bestseller, Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019). His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, with 8 years as a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7 years as a professor at Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at