Walmart, Disney, and Amazon Force Employees to Return to Office


Walmart, Disney, and Amazon recently announced that they would force employees to return to office (RTO) for in-person work. This news came as the debate between those who favor remote work and those who prefer return to office policies because they like the human connection and getting out in the world, rages on. Amid all this noise, corporate leaders are taking a stand. Most of them are insisting employees to return to the office – and employees are protesting, pushing back, and promoting remote work in response.

Walmart Insists on Relocation and RTO

The Wall Street Journal reportedly saw an internal memo from Walmart Chief Technology Officer Suresh Kumar in which he said that technology workers for the company must return to the office more often, but there was a catch. He also informed them that three principle offices in Austin, Carlsbad, Calif., and Portland, Ore. would close and those working there would have to transfer to another office, such as its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., as reported by many news outlets including Yahoo! 

Those who cannot move to another office must leave the company. At least, Kumar said Walmart would provide severance to those who choose to leave. In addition, those who relocate will be reimbursed for the move. The Wall Street Journal warns that those who opt for the headquarters in Arkansas probably will return to the office five times per week because that is the standard there. 

Disney Workers Return to Office Four Days Per Week

Amid the tumult of Disney firing CEO Bob Chapek and retired CEO Bob Iger returning to run the company on a two-year contract, workers learned 7,000 people would be laid off to cut $5.5 billion in costs, including $3 billion in content savings, according to CNBC. Then, Iger announced that remote employees must return to the office Mondays through Thursdays. In reaction, 2,300 employees petitioned the request, according to Deadline

When word spread of the announcement, some reporters suggested that four days would eventually turn into five. They believed Iger was easing people back into a 2019, pre-pandemic work structure by allowing one remote day per week for now. 

“In a creative business like ours, nothing can replace the ability to connect, observe, and create with peers that comes from being physically together, nor the opportunity to grow professionally by learning from leaders and mentors,” according to Iger’s Jan. 9 memo, which has been widely shared. “It is my belief that working together more in-person will benefit the Company’s creativity, culture, and our employees’ careers.”  

At HR Exchange Network, HR veteran and University of Pennsylvania Professor Michael Arena has shown, through his research, that collaborating in person can be beneficial, but it must be done with intention and planning. Remote work can be effective for different stages of projects, too. The point is that the debate about remote and in-person work is far more nuanced than most people realize if leaders want to assess the effectiveness of both work types. 

Amazon Creates Controversy with Its RTO Mandate

Beginning May 1, Amazon will have employees report to work in the office three days per week. In response, more than 14,000 Amazon employees joined a Slack channel to air grievances, share concerns, and plan pushback on this mandate. Indeed, the employees have written a petition in which they cite common reasons for permitting remote work, including that it is more inclusive of underrepresented employees like those with disabilities or who serve as caregivers, it provides flexibility, and helps maintain trust between employer and employee, according to Deadline. 

These employers make big headlines. They are joined by the likes of Twitter CEO Elon Musk, who told employees they had no choice but to return to the office five days per week and Apple who mandated employees return at least three days per week. The argument in favor of returning to 2019 is flimsy, say many HR experts. 

Employees still have leverage because, despite layoffs at tech firms, the labor market remains tight. There’s a labor shortage brought on by shifting demographics that will nto go away. In addition, remote work worked for nearly three years now. Advances in technology continue to make this work style more and more feasible and efficient. Research, much of which has been shared right here on HR Exchange Network, demonstrates that in-person work, while sometimes necessary, is not the only way to work. 

Not so long ago, Iwo Szapar, remote work advocate, influencer, and CEO of Remote-how, shared with HR Exchange Network his expectations of the future of work, which are obviously shaped by his promotion of working from anywhere: 

“When we’re looking into the future, years from now, remote work is here to stay. We’ll transition into the remote-first approach because hybrid work is like having hybrid cars. They are not as bad as those that run on gas alone, but they’re not as perfect for addressing the climate crisis as electric cars.”

So, no one knows who will win – executives or employees. Will the world return to offices because employees will feel under pressure during a recession that leaves no sense of job security? Or will employees retain leverage and the continue to press for more flexible working arrangements? 

Let us know in the comments what you think about these companies forcing workers back to the office and what type of work you plan to pursue as an individual and an HR leader. 

Photo by cottonbro studio for Pexels

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