Playing the RTO Game

Playing the RTO Game

An empty office because no one wants RTO

Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

I guess it didn’t take long for the handful of people who were high on the hybrid work model to burn out on it. LinkedIn published “Stop counting days in office,” which you can find here: I’m not sure who couldn’t see this one coming.

In the blurb, editor Melissa Cantor writes:

“If the goal is to limit the spread of disease, hybrid models for work and school make little sense. In fact, The New York Times argues that ‘the rules for hybrid work were always made-up.’ But as our policies become less about containing COVID and more about transitioning to a ‘new normal,’ companies making return-to-office decisions should be intentional about their plans and consider the costs and benefits associated with each call they make. ‘People are way too fixated on number of days in office as a metric,’ one expert tells the Times.”

Honestly, my first thought was Thor telling Drax, “All words are made up.” The same is true here: any number of days some fat cat deems as “necessary” for being in the office is just a made up construct.

This brings an important point to the forefront: it’s not about Covid. It’s about getting you back, butt-in-seat, to the digital panopticon. I’m sorry to be so blunt here, but’s what I genuinely believe. I talked about this in my post Ha Ha:

Secondly, according to the Gartner survey, concerns about Covid are at the bottom of the list whereas commuting time and flexible scheduling are neck-and-neck for first place. So hiring managers who advocate for “coming on back to the office” and not worrying about Covid are using a red herring. People may not be worried about Covid but they are worried about flexible scheduling and the commute.

Job seekers and employees are more concerned about the commute, a flexible schedule, inflation, and sorting out child/elder care than Covid. Businesses pushing for RTO seem to be more concerned with getting you back to the Cube Farm. This is certainly a collision of values and priorities.

The NY Times article that LI references can be found here: The opening paragraph reads:

“The conundrum facing executives nationwide these days is one familiar to anyone who has ever planned a birthday gathering: ‘It’s really hard to get anybody to come to a party if everybody R.S.V.P.s maybe,’ said Zach Dunn, an expert on hybrid work and founder of the workplace management company Robin.”

Hmm. Well, maybe it’s time to simply RSVP “no” and cancel the party.

Further down:

“The three-two weekday R.T.O. split, like so many other aspects of office reopening plans, has begun to seem less like gospel and more like gibberish.”

Well, yes. Of course. Because it never was gospel.

“Some companies, like Airbnb, have recently told their employees they never have to return to the office; others, like Goldman Sachs, where workers are back five days a week, remain zealous about the benefits of in-person work.”

Jeez. The fact that they are “zealous about the benefits of in-person work” tells me everything I need to know. Remember this?  ‘Cause I do!

Then we get this gem:

“‘The word of the day is chaos,’ said Becky Frankiewicz, U.S. president of ManpowerGroup, a global staffing agency with more than 4,500 offices. ‘I had a Canadian C.E.O. ask me probably three weeks ago — ‘Becky, we opened the offices and no one came back, what do we do now?’ The first step was, ‘Let’s open the doors and see who comes back,’” she added. “Then it became, ‘OK, now we need to clarify the expectation either by team, or by days of the week.'”

*Rubs temples* If you opened the doors and your entire workforce said, “Naw,” that should tell you what you need to know, full-stop. IMO, leaving the doors open to wait and see who comes back is probably not the whole story. I’m willing to bet it was more like, “Hey guys. Y’all need to come on back to the office. We got the lights on and the coffee pot runnin’ and everything.” 🙄

“Earlier this month, Mr. Handler and the firm’s president Brian Friedman sent out a memo urging employees to start improving their attendance levels for the sake of their junior colleagues craving community.

‘For those who have not been in the office regularly yet, we understand that it might seem daunting combined with a sense of comfort that has set in for many to work primarily from home,’ they wrote. ‘Yet, we strongly believe the negatives of these realities are far outweighed by the magic of being together in person.'”

😆 Sorry, I’m trying to catch my breath. 🤣

“But not all employees have bought into the magic — or are willing to pretend they think it’s real. And many company leaders have tried to strike a balance, promoting the benefits of in-person collaboration without outright mandating that workers be part of it.”

Bingo. The emperor is naked. He isn’t wearing any clothes now and never was before. I’ve already debunked this BS myth that junior level employees need in-person mentoring and are out in the streets clamoring for it:

Finally, as a last ditch effort, we get some fake pathos of “Please, won’t everyone think of the children”:

“While acknowledging the efficiency of remote work, Handler and President Brian Friedman said it’s left many mid-level and junior staff ‘feeling abandoned,’ and they ‘need to be in your physical presence’ to see big deals get done or learn how to cultivate clients. ‘They need this from you,’ the bosses said to the firm’s senior staff. ‘It just requires more effort from all of you.'” –

There are ways to set up mentorships between senior and junior employees without requiring them to be butt-in-seat inside a Cube Farm. There are also ways to allow someone less experienced to observe you on a business call to take notes and ask questions later without requiring everyone to drive to an office to do it.


Here’s the deal: I’ve been bearish about my predictions for the economy. If a recession hits and unemployment rises, I believe we will see an RTO push. Micromanagers and surveillance-happy bosses who’ve been sitting back, mad at the world that they can’t herd you into a Cube Farm (while they go and play golf whenever TF they want to) will feel like, “Yee haw! Here’s our chance.” Be intentional about where you land. For example, Airbnb made it clear their workers can stay remote and live wherever they want… but… there’s a catch. Once per quarter you have to expect some sort of corporate hoo-ha for a week at a time. ( 👎🏻

If you are negotiating for a completely remote-only role, you should consider these fine print situations. Is it “remote only” except for 4 weeks out of the year when you have to make travel arrangements to go somewhere for team-building BS? These are important questions to ask. For me, remote only means exactly that: 100% remote, 100% of the time, 0 exceptions.


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