Hello, Quartz at Work readers!
Are you reading this from an office right now? If the data bears out, it’s more likely that you are today than a week ago.
Employers are ending the summer with an earnest push to bring teams back into the office. In the US, companies have coalesced around a particular holiday: Labor Day. Starting this month, one million American employees will be subject to a new return-to-office mandate, according to new research (pdf) from real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL).
“While it may seem arbitrary, choosing Labor Day as the moment to bring workers back to the office could be a calculated move by organizations,” Sue Cantrell, vice president of products and workforce strategies at Deloitte Consulting, tells Quartz. It comes as public schools are back in session, freeing up caregivers to get commuting again; it dovetails with the end of vacations and Summer Fridays.
Now some leaders are striking a hard line when it comes to RTO. Take Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, who last week told employees “it’s probably not going to work out” for those who won’t get with the company’s return-to-office orders. But workers want data that justifies the why behind compulsory attendance, even with somewhat flexible policies—and for now, the evidence extolling IRL work remains mixed at best.
Working relationships could benefit IRL, with a caveat. In-office face time has been linked to promotion paths and better feedback (pdf)—a result of what’s known as proximity bias, or our human tendency to favor those closer to us. Rather than recalling everyone to their commutes, though, perhaps efforts would be better spent training managers to drop their biases.
But productivity? It’s not so clear-cut. While a crop of new research released this summer connects fully-remote work with up to 20% less productivity for employees, the data has its share of critics. One oft-cited study uses the speed of data entry at one firm in India as a proxy for performance—a very specific metric, and one that arguably shouldn’t be used to map wider trends across workplaces.
But in the absence of clear answers, some companies will push in-person mandates with murky metrics. At Amazon, Jassy cited internal data that found meetings were less effective from home. He has not released those numbers to employees.
But there are ways to bring people to work together IRL without issuing top-down mandates or badge-swipe surveillance. Some companies are testing tactics that help give their employees a say in how they work in-person.
📝 Let the team co-write your RTO plans. This year, Deloitte Consulting employees were invited to weigh in on the makings of their return-to-office plan with all-staff debate sessions. “We decided that the debate would benefit from the wisdom of the major crowd… as opposed to just the wisdom of the couple dozen people who have the privilege of sitting at the management table,” CEO Dan Helfrich told Quartz this spring.
🧱 Concentrate your office time in blocks. At Smucker, leaders aren’t asking workers to come in a certain number of days a week, but weeks a year. Employees are given 22 “core” weeks that they’ll work in-person—announced a calendar year in advance—which allows them to live away from the Orrville, Ohio campus and travel for those in-person workweeks.
✈️ Gather everyone for collaboration carve-outs. A growing number of companies are focusing on all-staff onsites instead of RTO policies. At ZipRecruiter, they’re called Collaboration Weeks. Teams across the US and Canada will be flown into a central office twice this fall (first in Santa Monica, then in Phoenix) for a week of dedicated face-to-face work.
187,000: The number of jobs US employers added to the economy in August, a moderate number suggesting that the hot labor market is cooling.
In fact, a lot of August employment numbers are starting to resemble pre-pandemic stats. The share of Americans who have a job (or are hunting for one) hit a high not seen since February 2020. Fewer employees are quitting. And the data has some asking: Does this mean the Great Resignation is officially over?
The unusual conditions that allowed Americans to quit their jobs at record rates in 2021 and 2022 may be shifting back into a more familiar place. But as Quartz’s Nate DiCamillo has argued, the Great Resignation actually ended this spring, when the national quits rate (or the percentage of people voluntarily leaving their jobs) first fell to pre-pandemic levels.
On the whole, this summer’s reports suggest more strongly that the American job market (and economy more largely) is on its way back to pre-covid norms. What’s left to be seen, though, is whether American workers will hold on to some of the leverage that enabled them to walk away in the first place.
While good managers have exit interviews, great managers have “stay” interviews. “In a classic case of too little, too late, companies often wait until their employees leave to ask them about how they felt in their role,” Quartz at Work editor Anna Oakes writes this week. “But this valuable input could be put to work much earlier—and keep great employees from walking out the door in the first place.”
💬 Instead of exit interviews, try stay interviews—a practice where managers routinely ask reports about how they’re feeling on the job. Quartz compiled a shortlist of questions any manager can use to get started.
Send questions, comments, and your own resignations to firstname.lastname@example.org. This edition of The Memo was written by Gabriela Riccardi.