Return to Office mandates boost company profits? Nope

Biz boffins say bottom line and market cap didn't change post directive – but staff mood did

Research has shed light on the profitability gains that the biggest US corporations experienced after issuing return to office mandates: There weren't any, and the policy made their staff unhappier.

Among the S&P 500 stock market index, some 137 businesses told their hired hands to haul their asses back on site last year, and these were used as the sample group by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Numerous company top managers argue that working from home reduces employee productivity and hurts firm performance and value," the research write-up states. "However, a large number of employees vehemently oppose this viewpoint and argue that elimination of arduous commutes and enhanced flexibility actually contribute to higher work efficiency and better overall well-being."

Reg readers no doubt remember the time in 2020 when Dell pledged to promote remote working among its 165,000 employees, saying 60 percent would never go back into the office regularly, only to renege on that promise in May. Dell isn't alone in demanding a return.

Google warned staff to come back. So did Meta, web conferencing-during-the-pandemic posterchild Zoom (irony not lost on us ether), Amazon, IBM Software and, more recently, all of IBM. There many others too. Some, including Roblox, told staff to come back to HQ or sling their hook.

The companies mentioned above were not seemingly highlighted as being involved in the University of Pittsburgh study. So what did the biz boffins discover?

"Results of our determinant analyses are consistent with managers using RTO mandates to reassert control over employees and blame employees as a scapegoat for bad performance," the research observes.

"Also, our findings do not support the argument that managers impose mandates because they believe RTO increases firm values. Further, our study finds a significant decline in employee job satisfaction. However, we do not find significant changes in firm performance in terms of profitability and stock market valuation after the RTO mandates," it adds.


'We've heard the feedback …' Microsoft 365 axes per-user productivity monitoring after privacy backlash


Previous Microsoft research pointed to so-called productivity paranoia – when managers can't see their staff they can't be certain of the work rate. This is the same Microsoft that found itself in hot water over its Productivity Score software that had privacy implications for staff subjected to it.

Stanford economist Nick Bloom late last year claimed the "Return to the Office is dead" with "office occupancy" rising in 2022 but flat in 2023. That wasn't the case in the tech sector, where hundreds of thousands were ordered back in.

Nvidia, Atlassian and Dropbox were among those to buck the trend. ®

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