Companies Continue to Mandate Return to Offices, Employees Continue to Push Back

September 27, 2022

An increasing number of company leaders have determined that in-person work is preferable and more conducive to business success than remote work has proven to be and have made their feelings known to the rank and file.  

The Wall Street Journal is the latest company to join that chorus and has informed employees that as of November 1st they are expected to work in offices and in-person for three days per week, up from a previous mandate of two days per week. Additionally, senior editors and managers are expected to be back in their offices full-time.  

In a report from Fortune magazine, Matt Murray the Journal’s Editor in Chief was quoted as saying in an email to staff members “There’s little doubt that we do our best work, produce our best products, and grow, share, and learn the most when we are physically together.” 

But there is actually significant doubt about the assertion of the benefits and outcomes of in-person work, and that doubt is being expressed by the Journal’s employee union leaders themselves. Tim Martell, executive director of the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, said he does not believe that being in-person in the office is as important to the success of the Journal as management says. “We’re not convinced that there’s a need for an in-office newsroom 3 or 5 days per week in order for the Wall Street Journal to be successful”, Martell said, adding that “the company has been very, very successful over the last two-plus years of largely remote working”. 

And an informal survey of about 40 Journal staffers indicated that 80% were opposed to any additional in-office attendance mandates, citing childcare challenges, commuting costs, and ongoing COVID-19 concerns, among other reasons to resist more in-office work.  

The Wall Street Journal’s collective bargaining agreement with the union gives employees little ability to reject the increased in-office mandates, but the agreement is only in force for a year, meaning that in-person attendance policies will almost certainly be a thorny issue in upcoming negotiations.  

Martell summarizes the employee concerns regarding in-person requirements this way – “If management are signaling that the future of work is going to look like the work of the past, then I would bet that negotiations are going to very difficult for a new contract next year.” 

We are seeing again and again this tension in organizations all over the country, CEOs and leaders pushing for increased in-person work, and employees continuing to push back against these policies. Where the balance of power will reside is still unclear, but with a near-record number of open jobs in the US, and unemployment near a 50-year low, workers are confident in their ability to better dictate the terms and conditions of their employment. We will continue to follow the remote work vs. return to office wars at H3 HR as well as on the Workplace Minute Show.

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