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RTO Battles Continue as Workers Outline Benefits to Hybrid, Remote Modes

"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful," Mae West allegedly said. True in some instances, perhaps -- but not, according to a recent BBC Worklife article, applicable to in-person collaboration. A recent study by workplace insights firm Leesman surveyed workers who were in the office two to three days a week, and workers who were in the office four to five days; the number of employees in the latter group who say they feel connected to their company was only one percentage point greater than the group that was in the office two to three days.

As the BBC reported:

"There just doesn't seem to be huge gains from the number of days people are in the office," says Allison English, deputy CEO of Leesman. "It's about the quality, not quantity, of time that matters. In fact, we see that the greater the number of in-person days, the less the worker is generally satisfied with work-life balance, impacting engagement and their connection to the organization."

The careful distinction of quality over quantity frames the real problem at the heart of any employee experience work: How can one constructively use quantitative metrics like number of days in office to improve the qualitative experience of working somewhere? There is always a risk of assuming that an improvement in quantitative metrics reflects an improvement in qualitative experience, when the reality is that boosting those numbers is having the opposite effect.

Take, for example, Dell's attempts to enforce a back-to-the-office mandate. A month ago, The Register reported the company would track the onsite presence of hybrid employees by monitoring their onsite badge swipes and VPN use as part of an effort to enforce the company RTO policy. Per the Register:

"In the latest Jeff Clarke return-to-grade-school initiative, HR will be keeping an attendance report card on employees, grading them at four levels based on how well they meet the goal of being in the office 39 days a quarter," a source familiar with Dell told The Register, referring to the IT giant's chief operating officer.

Dell had also added teeth to its RTO policy by telling workers those who stayed fully remote would be ineligible for future promotions.

On Wednesday, Business Insider reported on how that RTO mandate, with its combination of quantitative metrics and career incentivization for on-site employees was going: "Close to 50% of Dell's full-time workers in the US have opted to stay remote, according to internal data on the entire full-time workforce seen by Business Insider."

The still-unfolding Dell story about RTO is instructive about metrics in two ways -- it shows how employees respond to tracking, and it shows what is important to employees, since close to 50% of a workforce has made it clear they'd rather work remotely than advance through the company.

The pushback against mandating increased time in the office also brings to mind another quote, this one attributed to Aesop, that workplace strategists would do well to heed: "It is possible to have too much of a good thing."