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Apple called its employees back to the office as the company’s hybrid three-day-a-week schedule finally began in early September. Many tech companies have relaxed their office work requirements, making Apple an exception when it comes to RTOs.

Another outlier, Google, has been in hybrid mode since April, which has reportedly led to outbreaks of COVID-19 in the office. Yet despite all the talk about Google’s three-day-a-week RTO policy, two employees who spoke to Protocol anonymously say it’s not really a mandate. An employee and a contractor both told Protocol that the hybrid policy does not seem to be imposed on everyone.

“I feel like it’s basically not enforced,” the employee said. The Google contractor said attendance varied from team to team, noting that while some of their teammates went to the office three days a week, most only went once. (Neither Google nor Apple returned emails asking how their hybrid policies are enforced.)

Sundar Pichai’s plan to make Google “20% more efficient” could make nervous workers choose to go to the office more often. (An August survey found that CBRE tenants were “evenly split” on whether a recession would drive more workers into the office out of concern for their job security.)

Right now, most companies’ hybrid requirements are only enforced under a “very loose mandate,” said Brian Kropp, senior vice president of research at Gartner. About half of companies with a hybrid mandate monitor office footfall, Kropp said, but even those that do “don’t really intend to fire people who don’t come into the office, as long as they do. their work”.

More than 40% of HR managers surveyed by Gartner last month said they don’t track office traffic. Thirty-five percent said they collect attendance data from key fobs or badges, while 22% said managers track their teams’ attendance. Another 10% said employees self-register.

Companies that selectively enforce attendance requirements can end up with unfair results, Kropp said.

“If you have a set of mandatory days that you have to go to the office, but it’s applied unevenly across the company, then you have fairness issues,” Kropp said. “It just creates more variability within the business, which also creates more risk in terms of inconsistency.”

And while flexibility gives companies an edge when it comes to competing for talent, it also requires more sophisticated management, Kropp said. “The question you should really ask yourself is, does our executive population have, on average, the ability to handle a lot more flexibility, or not?” Cropp said. “If the answer is ‘yes, they do,’ you should be pushing for as much flexibility as possible.”

To lead high-performing teams in a flexible environment, managers need to be “part social worker, part engineer,” Kropp said. This means more empathy and more ability to plan and organize.

While companies may seem settled into their hybrid ways of working, many leaders leave policies open to change over time rather than overcommit. The world is unpredictable, as we have learned over the past 2.5 years. “A lot of these executives – the way they frame it now is, ‘That’s our hybrid strategy for now, and it could evolve and change,'” Kropp said.

Amazon falls into this category. As Andy Jassy said at the Code conference on Wednesday, Amazon doesn’t have a plan to force employees back to the office: “We’ll do it adaptively as we learn.”

A version of this story appeared in Protocol’s Workplace newsletter. register here to get it delivered to your inbox three times a week.


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